JetBlue takes cautious approach to in-flight connectivity

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Executives at JetBlue Airways realise that at some point the carrier will need to add in-flight connectivity to its portfolio, but the airline remains unconvinced that current technologies will be the most viable for the long-term.

The carrier was the first in the USA to offer email and messaging in December 2007 when it debuted "BetaBlue" on a single Airbus A320. The services were provided by the Kiteline air-to-ground solution developed by JetBlue's subsidiary LiveTV.

But ATI in April of this year reported LiveTV is no longer pursuing the Kiteline solution, and instead has been advertising a "Kiteline World" in-flight connectivity product that was originally engineered for the maritime market.

During a recent interview with ATI sister publication Airline Business JetBlue chief commercial officer Robin Hayes explained that while connectivity is likely to be featured on the carrier's aircraft at some point, "we just want to make sure we figure out the right way of doing it".

Current air-to-ground network offerings are very challenging, he explains. "The network speeds just aren't there".

Hayes predicts a number of technological developments in the next 5-10 years in airborne Wi-fi systems. "Jumping in with the current providers that are available now just may not be the right thing to do."

Pointing to JetBlue's "contrarian" method of how it does business Hayes says: "Just because everyone else has rushed to do it [offer connectivity], we don't necessarily think it is right for us yet. As a brand we've always been very innovative, so perhaps that means we're looking for something that's going to provide more for our customers."

Pointing out price points for Gogo air-to-ground connectivity in the $12-$13 range, Hayes says that's a bit expensive. "I travel around a lot, we talk to people a lot. I just don't think that the airlines that are using it are getting the swipe rates to make it meaningful."

He also explains that if JetBlue were to introduce connectivity at that price point alongside its free live television service, "we're going to get even lower take-up rates than airlines that don't offer any other entertainment".

Hayes stresses JetBlue believes it will need a Wi-fi solution, but the carrier wants to ensure that "when we put it on it is future proof, and it is something that's accessible to a larger number of customers than the current technology product is".