There’s nothing worse than touching down on a layover and taking your phone off “Flight Mode” to realize – the airport doesn’t offer free WIFI.
Despite how unbelievably connected our world is, it’s amazing to me that this is one of the only aspects of the travel industry that’s not catching up with the times. As you probably already know, most airports offer free WIFI but only for a limited time (London’s Heathrow caps at 45 minutes, while Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi is 30) and others charge up the nose (Barcelona, for example is $12 USD for one hour).
Most recently, European airports are stepping up their game. Two of Ireland’s (Dublin and Shannon) offer an unlimited connection. Just last week, Aéroport de Paris (Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly) broke serious ground by doing the same with multiple hotspots. The concept is monetized by still offering guests the option of paying for a better network, at up to eight or 20 times the regular speed.
While more and more airlines are also offering in-flight WIFI, it’s rare for passengers to want to pay for it (for a full list of airlines and what they charge, click here). That’s why many airlines are breaking down and offering free WIFI to passengers in some shape or form. JetBlue has its Simply Surf complimentary service, marketed as the fastest active WIFI connection in the sky. Saudi Arabian Airlines also recently announced upcoming cost-free service.
It’s obviously expensive for an airport or airline to not only create the infrastructure for free WIFI, but also to maintain it. But there’s no question customers are asking for it, and those requests will need to be met at some point. Statistics show that business travelers choose a hotel based on the WIFI experience, a bad connection can turn into serious lost revenue. If free WIFI becomes a significant factor in how people choose who they fly with, there could be an “arms race” for WIFI so to speak.
This is already happening in American airports. An article published in Forbes in February says that there are only 10 airports in the U.S. now that don’t offer “free or freemium” connections. They are being shamed by bigger airports like John F. Kennedy and McCarran that do. What’s happening behind the scenes is airport partners like Boingo Wireless are paying for the installation and equipment, splitting costs with the airport. The company benefits from offering faster, secure premium connections (the monthly unlimited package offers up to three times 3G) on multiple devices for a charge.
In my opinion, the sooner the dominoes start to fall, the better. Free WIFI shouldn’t only be the privilege of only those “priority members” in airline lounges. When passengers crowd around outside of lounges anyway, it weakens the connection for everybody… and nobody wants to see that kind of mob mentality emerge!
Let’s see what’s to come in the near future. All we can do, as consumers, is continue to keep asking!