Emirates airline on Tuesday announced that most of its flights are equipped with wifi, offering passengers the first 10MBs of data for free which is sufficient for most travellers to check in on their social media accounts.
Subsequently, a token $1 charge is imposed for the next 600MB.
Emirates is updating its software programming to eventually enable passengers to have unlimited free access to wifi. On a few of its A380s and 777s, it is not currently possible to offer the first 10MB free for technical reasons, but the airline is working hard to resolve the issue in the coming months, the airline said.
The Dubai carrier said it’s investing over $20 million (Dh73.4 million) annually on installing and operating inflight connectivity systems which enable onboard Wi-Fi services. Onboard Wi-Fi is available on all of Emirates’ 53 A380s and on 28 Boeing 777s, which serve routes across six continents.
The airline also has an aggressive retrofit programme which will eventually see its entire fleet wifi enabled. Importantly, Emirates is subsidising or waiving the high cost of buying data for passenger use, it said.
In the first three years since Emirates launched inflight wifi connectivity, over half a million passengers have connected to the internet onboard an Emirates flight, and this demand is expected to increase exponentially, the Dubai carrier said.
“It is a fact that our customers want onboard connectivity, and this demand is only going to increase as more people embrace an ‘always-on’ digital lifestyle, and carry smart mobile devices when they travel. We’ve always viewed wifi as a service and a value-added part of Emirates’ overall product, rather than a revenue stream,” said Sir Tim Clark, President Emirates Airline.
He added: “If we can offer good quality wifi connections for everyone onboard at no charge tomorrow, we will do it. But we face a slew of technical limitations – from speed and bandwidth availability and cost, to the supporting hardware and software – all of which we are working hard to address with the industry right now.
Ultimately, we believe that onboard wifi will become a free service, and a standard that customers will expect on a full service airline, just like onboard refreshments and personal inflight entertainment. Emirates is leading the way on this, and we are working closely with our suppliers and various stakeholders towards this vision.”
In October, Emirates saw a daily average of 3,500 passengers using onboard wifi, at an average of 28MB per user. The highest number of wifi users on a single Emirates flight was recorded on an A380 with 153 passengers connecting, and the highest internet volume recorded on a single flight was nearly 8,000MB from 26 users onboard a Boeing 777 flight.
The airline saw a 200 per cent spike in wifi usage in the month of October, due to a free wifi promotion to mark the Eid holidays. The promotion heightened travellers’ awareness of the facility onboard, resulting in a lot of first time users connecting and positive customer feedback.
According to the airline’s data, the sites its passengers most frequently access onboard include Google, Facebook, and chat services Skype, WhatsApp and BBM, reflecting travellers’ strong desire to stay connected and their use of social media channels to do so.
Passengers onboard Emirates also have other ways to stay connected with in-seat sms and email, as well as mobile phone services. All of Emirates’ 36 dedicated airport lounges around its global network offer complimentary wifi connectivity.