Some level of Wi-Fi service has been installed on nearly half the airline passenger capacity in the world, but only a small portion of this service is at the highest level that passengers increasingly seek. There is thus still plenty of installation and upgrade work to be done, except perhaps for airlines that fly very short routes or sell the least expensive travel.
Wi-Fi is now available on 43% of available seat miles globally, from the 82 airlines that offer inflight Wi-Fi, according to a survey by Routehappy, a platform for inflight shopping. During 2017, 12 airlines added inflight Wi-Fi, a 17% increase from a year earlier.
Deployment of Wi-Fi continues to reflect the initial advantage of the U.S.’s very dense infrastructure of air-to-ground facilities. U.S. carriers offer Wi-Fi on 86% of their ASMs. Outside the U.S., Wi-Fi is on 32% of ASMs, but that portion is up by 14% from a year earlier.
The top three airlines offering the most ASMs with Wi-Fi are Delta, American and Emirates. Only three carriers now offer Wi-Fi on 100% of their flights: Icelandair, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic. And only 13 airlines offer Wi-Fi on 100% of their long-haul flights of six hours or more: Air Europa, Delta, Emirates, Etihad, Eurowings, EVA Air, Iberia, Kuwait, Lufthansa, SAS, Scoot, United and Virgin Atlantic.
While connectivity is increasing, the levels of Wi-Fi service vary greatly, indicating that even connected carriers may be looking at modifications to improve service, as Delta already has done. Routehappy classifies Wi-Fi connections in three levels: basic, better and best.
Basic Wi-Fi now represents 27% of connected ASMs worldwide, a 16% decrease from the previous year. Better Wi-Fi is most common at 57% of ASMs. And best Wi-Fi is now available on 16% of ASMs, up 129% a year ago. If best represents the standard all passengers will ultimately expect, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Routehappy says even smaller airlines have begun offering Wi-Fi, including Air Astana, Air Côte d'Ivoire and Air Mauritius.
But according to other sources, many ultra-low-cost carriers and regional airlines are still reluctant to install Wi-Fi. For regional airlines, flights may be short and passenger interest in Wi-Fi not intense enough to justify installation and operating costs of it. And ultra LCCs are still wary of adding any non-essential costs to their services, especially when they fly relatively short segments.
For the other ASMs yet to be connected, availability of good service at reasonable costs is the key to Wi-Fi installation. As satellite and other links become more available and affordable and as antenna and other components improve in performance, the share of connected ASMs will undoubtedly continue to grow.