Browsing Tag: Wi-Fi

Two will enter, one will leave.

Two will enter, one will leave. Some will have Wi-Fi.

United has announced today that Continental intends to add Wi-Fi to 200 of their Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft. It is not officially, official that this will happen, but I would imagine it will go through.

If you get confused on who and what United and Continental Airlines are right now, you are not alone. Although they will be merging, they are still two separate airlines. This gets more confusing since they have started to re-paint planes and doing joint announcements.

Add to the confusion that currently, United flies fourteen aircraft with Wi-Fi already on their Premium Service (PS). 13 of those aircraft are using Go-Go Inflight Wi-Fi and one is using Row 44. The Continental aircraft will be using LiveTV’s ViaSat-1 satellite internet. Those are a lot of different providers and I would imagine as the merger settles down, the new United will be looking at which service package they would want to provide to the entire fleet. Since the new United has so many international destinations, it makes sense for them to look at using a satellite provider like Row44 or LiveTV.

Becoming the world’s largest airline is not easy. There are a lot of things that still need to be dealt with to make sure the new United has a consistent brand.Time is of the essence since the new United doesn’t want to alienate loyal customers for both airlines during the transition.

To learn a bit more, check out my story on AOL Travel News.

 

The tram wizzes by at Detroit's airport. Photo from DTW.

The tram wizzes by at Detroit's airport. Photo from DTW.

Recently I was hanging out at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) waiting for a flight back home and I became annoyed that their airport did not provide free Wi-Fi internet. Oddly the airport did have free wired terminals were folks could check their email. I have become a spoiled traveler. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (my home base) has had free internet for quite some time. The more I travel the more and more I start finding free wireless access at airports. Heck, while waiting for the bus in Austin to go to the airport, I got free Wi-Fi from the city of Austin while standing at my bus stop.

I was voicing my frustration about no free Wi-Fi at AUS via Twitter, when Scott Wintner, who works for Pubic Affairs for Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) and Willow Run Airport (YIP), reached out via Twitter and wanted to share why many airports do not offer free Wi-Fi. He pointed out that Wi-Fi isn’t free and not all airports can afford to give it to passengers without charging. I decided to try and learn more about why more airports don’t have free Wi-Fi and Wintner was more than happy to help out. Here is our talk:

AirlineReporter.com (AR): When did DTW get Wi-Fi?
Scott Wintner (SW): December 2003

AR: Who is it through?
SW:  Concourse Communications (now part of Boingo)

AR: How much does it cost a passenger to get internet?
SW: The rates are established by the provider (Boingo), which currently offers several different rates and packages. You can find all of their rate/package info online at www.boingo.com (there are many to choose among). It’s important to note that, because we use one of the leading global providers, internet purchased for use at DTW also works at hotspots around the country and, with some plans, the world. Plus, customers who already have a Wi-Fi plan with another carrier with which Boingo currently has roaming agreements (such as AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.), you can login to our Wi-Fi using your existing account.

AR: How much does DTW get from each internet purchase?
SW: That’s a complicated question because it’s not as simple as a flat % or sum per transaction. So, the best I can offer you will likely be an annual total… which our finance folks are working on for me now. Please standby…

AR: How much did it cost DTW to set up Wi-Fi?
SW: It didn’t cost the Airport Authority anything because the system was developed by the provider (Boingo). They may be able to provide you with more info about how much a system such as the one in place at DTW costs to set-up and maintain.

AR: Does “free” Wi-Fi even exist?
SW:  There is “no such thing as free Wi-Fi”. A wireless internet infrastructure costs money to develop and maintain… no news there. So, that cost has to be paid by someone. When you stay at a hotel that offers free Wi-Fi, you can bet that the cost of providing the service is merely baked-in to their operating costs and reflected in room rates. Likewise, when you go to a coffee shop, etc., that offers “free Wi-Fi”, the cost of providing that service is assumed in the price you pay for a latte or a bagel there. Of course, a for-profit business could elect to absorb the cost of providing Wi-Fi by paying for it out of profits rather than charging more for their goods/services. I don’t think it’s likely for many businesses to choose that option. But, either way, someone is paying for the cost of providing internet – and generally, it’s the customer.

AR: How do airports differ?
SW: Unlike hotels (which charge for a bed) and coffee shops (which charge for caffeine), airports do not charge their customers to use the airport. Yes, airports do charge for ancillary services such as parking and food/beverage/retail, but those services aren’t the airports primary reason for existing. Airport customers can – and many do – pass through the facility without spending a dime. So, airports can’t just jack-up their nightly rate or their admission fee to cover the costs of providing free Wi-Fi – there are no such fees to raise. Sure, airports could jack-up the price of parking and concessions to cover the cost of Wi-Fi – and many probably do.

AR: Can’t the costs be added to the airline’s fee for flying to an airport?
Raising airline costs at airports creates a whole separate set of effects. At minimum, those added airline costs become reflected in ticket prices. But, in most cases, added airline costs become a huge disincentive for airlines to expand (and in some cases even maintain) air service at that airport… which could lead to fewer options and less competition (read: higher prices). In either case, travelers are ultimately paying the bill.

AR: Why has DTW decided not to provide “free” Wi-Fi?
SW: While finding a way to cover the cost of providing Wi-Fi is one thing, here in Detroit (as at many airports), we take it a step further. Much like parking, food and retail, we approach Wi-Fi as an important revenue stream. It’s not a matter of lining our pockets—we don’t make a profit and haven’t run a surplus in our 100 year history. Meanwhile, we have an incredible airfield here and two beautiful, new terminals that need to be both paid-off and maintained. We get a lot of kudos on our facilities here, and both travelers and airlines appreciate that we rarely have delays to due capacity issues at DTW. But, maintaining J.D. Power & Associates #1 Airport in customer satisfaction takes money. We have to get it from somewhere… and, for the reasons I described above… it’s incumbent upon us – for the good of the community – to generate as much revenue from non-airline rent sources as possible.

AR: How much does Wi-Fi factor into the airport making money?
SW: Wi-Fi is a tiny percentage of our overall revenue, but it’s something – and, it at minimum pays for itself. We hope it can pay us even more, because our customers enjoy the things such revenue is used to pay for (i.e., heat, hot water, clean bathrooms, working escalators, a tram that whisks connecting customers through the mile-long Concourse A in 2 min to make their connection, clear runways, top-notch safety and security systems, etc.)

AR: Why do any airports provide “free” Wi-Fi then?
SW:  To that question, I refer you back to my first key point – it’s not really free. How do some airports justify increasing costs elsewhere to cover providing free Wi-Fi? That you’d have to ask other airports. But, for smaller airports, it’s often for competitive reasons. Lots of people say to me, “I can’t believe you don’t have free Wi-Fi… even the tiny LANSING airport has free Wi-Fi,” – as if to suggest that a smaller airport would be the last to offer such a service. In reality, those smaller airports need to find ways to incentivize travelers to use them (and I say “small” loosely – airports such as OAK are actually not that small, but they are the “little guy” competing aggressively for Bay Area traffic). In their case, airlines aren’t likely to serve their airport unless the airport can show that travelers demand such air service. The economics of the smaller “spoke” airports are just entirely different than hub airports.

AR: Is there anything else travelers should know about DTW?
SW: Despite being a major hub for Delta (their second-largest), and formerly the largest for Northwest, DTW has an impressive roster of other carriers. Since we became an independent Airport Authority in 2002 (which largely affected our economics in terms of a focus on lowering airline costs), we’ve added service by Frontier, AirTran & Air France… and have gained new service on Southwest, Spirit & US Airways. All of those carriers fly routes also and already flown by NW/DL, which means we’ve been able to keep the economics to these carriers good enough to take-on an established hub carrier in their own hub and not only be successful, but GROW. That’s not easy to do – look at CLE today, MSP (until very recently), EWR, etc. We’ve done it with our focus on low-cost operations. We’re not the Nordstrom of airports… we’re more like the Target of airports. People fly out of DTW because they know they’ll get great rates and good service with LOTS of options all under one roof.

Hmm, okay I guess I have to be forgiving of this. How can I say it is alright for airlines to charge fees on things, since I shouldn’t have to pay for what I do not use, when I demand “free” Wi-Fi at the airport. It might be a bit selfish of me to ask others to help pick up with bill for Wi-Fi when not everyone will be using it. Just it can be difficult to pay out $10 for airport Wi-Fi, then another $10 for Wi-Fi on the plane. Of course, no one is forcing me to pay for it.

AirTran Boeing 737 landing in Atlanta.

AirTran Boeing 737 landing in Atlanta.

As I am sure you know, Southwest is try to purchase AirTran. This is a very interesting process since we are looking at two low cost carriers becoming one and Southwest taking on a new aircraft type: the Boeing 717.

There are still a lot of questions out there about the merger and I was hoping to get some more insight while hanging out with Southwest in Dallas for their yearly media day. Unfortunately at this point there aren’t a heck of a lot more answers, but I at least have a few more pieces of information.

The big thing to remember is that Southwest and AirTran are still separate companies and competitors. Even though it looks like this buy-out should go through with no issue, AirTran is not about to give up all their secrets until the deal is final. This doesn’t mean that Southwest isn’t working hard already, they just don’t have all the answers right now. Southwest currently has 30 different teams in seven different categories to prepare for the new larger company.

The addition of the Boeing 717 to Southwest’s all Boeing 737 fleet is something that definitely piques my curiosity. Southwest stated they feel this will be one of the smoothest transitions. AirTran already has a good system with their 717 and 737 aircraft and they plan to keep AirTran’s current system of organizing the different planes.

When asked about the Boeing 717 and Boeing 737-500, which are designed to serve similar markets, Southwest stated that the 737-500’s will be coming off lease in 2013-2015. At that time, they will want to have a newer small aircraft to replace them. They made it sound like the Boeing 717 would do that perfectly, but I am not so sure. I wonder if the Boeing 717 is the right aircraft type to provide smaller markets. It seems it might be beneficial for Southwest to look at not being an “all Boeing” airline and start looking at Bombardier C-series aircraft.

Another big interest is Southwest being able to start flying out of Atlanta (ATL). They seem very excited to get AirTran’s slots and are already planning to serve at least 24 new destinations from ATL that AirTran doesn’t currently serve. Southwest stated they aren’t looking to directly complete with any airlines in ATL (aka Delta), but am guessing there is more talk of competition behind closed doors. Southwest explained they hope they could offer airfares as much as 40% lower to ATL than the competition (aka Delta). Now that sounds like competitive talk to me. It looks like ATL will become quite important to Southwest. They stated that Atlanta might quickly become the largest city in their network, flying up to 2,000,000 passengers to the airport.

Some media voiced their concern about loyal AirTran passengers who are used to Business Class, Wi-Fi on all their flights and assigned seats. This is a big change to transition to all economy, Wi-Fi on some aircraft (will be all by mid-2013) and open seating. Southwest didn’t seem too concerned. They stated they know there are quite a few loyal Southwest passengers who would love to fly them into ATL, but just can’t do it right now. They also plan to educate fliers to promote Southwest’s unique brand of service.

Southwest stated that they aren’t looking to eliminate AirTran with the buy out, but that they hope to learn from them in every way they can to make a bigger and better airline.  With Southwest announcing they will be flying into larger airports like Newark on top of buying out AirTran, it is anyone’s guess what Southwest might do next. There was talk of flying longer distances possibly Hawaii (which was mentioned half a dozen times), South America and more. I say… game on.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 taking off from Anchorage, AK.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 taking off from Anchorage, AK.

Airlines adding wi-fi to their fleet is nothing new. But Alaska Airlines announcing they will be adding GoGo Inflight for their Wi-Fi service is exciting since: #1 They were testing Row44 and decided to go with GoGo instead and #2 Alaska is my hometown airline (based in Seattle), I fly them often, and I love having the internet at 30,000 feet.

Alaska has been testing Row44’s satellite-based internet service for quite sometime now. Row44’s main customer is Southwest Airlines. Many thought Alaska would go with Row44 since they have flights to Hawaii and remote areas of Alaska where cell towers, needed by GoGo, do not exist.

Why is Alaska willing to forgo service on all their routes to go with GoGo? A few reasons. First GoGo equipment costs less and takes less time to install on aircraft. This would mean a lower investment at the beginning and not as much lost revenue due to aircraft not being able to fly during installation. Also GoGo is installed on many different airlines all over the US already and has proven itself as a viable service.

GoGo, attempting to get Alaska’s business,  has agreed to expand its network into Alaska, however flights to Hawaii will still have no internet (but heck those passengers are going to Hawaii…nice tropical, warm Hawaii. They can deal with no internet).

To get FAA certification, one Boeing 737-800 will get GoGo installed, then the service will be installed fleet-wide.

Mary Kirby, with Flight Global’s Runway Girl, also has another opinion on this choice. She asks if Southwest and Row44 might have some arrangement in the works, which would have either delayed installation of Row44 into Alaska’s aircraft or Southwest might invest in Row44 and partly own the company. Only time will tell!

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Image: Bob Butcher