Hawaiian Airlines may soon invest in onboard wireless internet – assuming that expected technological improvements bring reliable satellite communications to far reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
The carrier's chief executive Peter Ingram says Hawaiian spent much time in 2018 investigating onboard wi-fi technology, studying the degree to which available systems can provide reliable connections over the Pacific.
"We are going to revisit that as we get… into 2019," he tells investors on 11 December. "We do think over the next couple of years there are a couple of providers that are going to have better capabilities in terms of coverage of the Pacific."
In-flight wi-fi "is going to be an investment we make in the future", he adds.
Hawaiian is among only a few US airlines that lack some form of in-flight wi-fi. Ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air has no airborne wi-fi connections, nor does discounter Spirit Airlines – though Spirit plans to begin offering the service in 2019.
In the last decade, as other US carriers equipped their fleets with wi-fi, Hawaiian sat on the sidelines.
It chose not to invest in the technology because so many of Hawaiian's aircraft traverse the Pacific Ocean, where data connections remain spotty, Ingram says.
"The technology for wi-fi, particularly over the Pacific Ocean, hasn't been good enough quality for us to make that investment," he says.
Some of Hawaiian's competitors do offer wi-fi on transpacific flights, but those connections tend to be slow and unreliable – largely useful only for data-light tasks such as checking email, Ingram says.
He does not provide additional details or say which service providers Hawaiian has studied.
But many of the satellite communications companies – Viasat, Inmarsat and Global Eagle, for example – have vigorously ramped up their services in recent years and are moving forward with plans to launch new satellites they say will provide greater global coverage and improved data-transmission speeds.