Southwest to push Row 44 wi-fi in 2013

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Southwest Airlines plans to promote its on-board wi-fi product more aggressively in 2013, as the airline says that the service could be more reliable.

Southwest chose Row 44 to be its wi-fi supplier in 2009 and installations began in 2010. The connectivity provider said on 22 January it had completed the installations on 400 Southwest Boeing 737 aircraft. It aims to complete the work on the airline's remaining 737-700s and -800s by mid-2013.

The airline's chief executive Gary Kelly says in an earnings call today that the installation time has been "pretty lengthy". "As a consequence, we didn't have any marketing awareness or merchandising of that feature... the reliability of the product was not where we wanted it to be in prior years."

He adds that the reliability rate is now at about 98%, "which is not quite good enough". "But it's not too bad considering the leading edge technology that it really offers," says Kelly. He was not able to provide take-up rates for the service, but notes that the take-up rate is higher on longer flights.

Row 44's product on Southwest's fleet allows passengers to surf the Internet and watch live television with their wi-fi enabled devices.

The airline earned about $5 million in revenue from the wi-fi product in 2012, says Kelly. "Obviously we are looking for a lot more than that," he says. "Our marketing folks are going to get behind the product this year and start promoting it much more heavily... [There is] a lot of potential. I don't think that history is going to be a guide, I'm kind of anxious to see what happens this year."

Kelly notes, however, that the on-board wi-fi product is not a material element of Southwest's revenue plan going forward.