A whopping 76% of road warriors would choose an airline based on the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi, a new study finds.

According to poll results released today by industry association the Wi-Fi Alliance in conjunction with Wakefield Research, in-flight Wi-Fi access is fast becoming a highly valued airline amenity for frequent fliers and business travellers, "who value it more than meal service, free movies and other perks".

Some 55% of travellers in this demographic would shift their flight by one day if it meant having in-flight Wi-Fi and 71% would opt for a flight with Wi-Fi access over one that provided meal service, according to the poll.

"Business and leisure travellers have long relied on Wi-Fi's wide availability around the world to stay connected - and that is becoming an expectation in the sky as well. We are excited to see numerous airlines offering in-flight Wi-Fi to passengers, and expect Wi-Fi will soon be as commonplace in planes as it is today in homes, businesses, and public areas," says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The survey results have been released at a time when some leading in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFE&C) experts are questioning whether passengers are willing to pay outright for in-flight Wi-Fi.

"I have been on record in many places saying that the passenger flight based revenue model will not generate enough dollars to cover the costs of the airline and their suppliers and the key to sustainability is going to be a reduction in operating cost and an improvement in operational efficiency with the airline using this bandwidth," IFE&C consultant Michael Planey said recently.

Some industry sources believe in-flight Wi-Fi has been hyped so much that it is impossible for vendors to meet expectations, and question whether financing for installations is drying up.

But while questions involving pricing and install costs remain, the results of today's poll illustrate a strong desire by business travellers to use in-flight Wi-Fi as an important tool to manage their workload. A total 82% of respondents said in-flight Wi-Fi would help them stay on top of projects.

"In-flight Wi-Fi will become a major productivity tool for business travellers, retention benefit for frequent flyer programs and a major revenue generator for the airlines, all during a downturn in the global economy," predicts Berge Ayvazian, senior analyst for Yankee Group. "This survey demonstrates the pent-up demand for broadband Internet access in-flight and the wide range of potential business and personal applications."

The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 480 frequent business travellers ages 18 and older, including 150 frequent business travellers who have used in-flight Wi-Fi, between 11 August and 18 August.

For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.47 percentage points, says the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wakefield Research.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news