Why JetBlue Airways went with speedy and free WiFi

JetBlue offers free WiFi, unlike its competitors. Photo: JetBlue via Facebook.

JetBlue offers free WiFi, unlike its competitors. Photo: JetBlue via Facebook.

If free and fast Internet is important to you, you should fly JetBlue Airways. 

As you probably know, JetBlue is adding satellite-based WiFi across its fleet. The service, offered by ViaSat, is so fast that passengers can usually stream content from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. It is now available on all A320s, A321s and a handful of E190s. By next fall, all JetBlue planes will have speedy, free Internet. 

I recently spoke with the JetBlue executive in charge of the project, Jamie Perry. Here's some of what Perry said. 

He expects that, eventually, other airlines will offer some connectivity for free. [I'm not sure I agree. Do you?]

"If you look at the world in general, there are two trends. People are consuming more and more data, and people are less willing to pay a lot of money for Internet access. They expect it to be high-powered, reliable and free. I do not think the airline industry can hold out against those two trends for long. ... If we're having this conversation again in five years, I suspect the vast majority of airlines will offer free WiFi in some form or another."

JetBlue looked at the traditional air-to-ground service from Gogo but decided it preferred the satellite approach since it has more bandwidth.

"Once we did that, we said, 'It seems pointless to go charge for it and have low usage.' The whole purpose of it is that it can support many users and video streaming. The research was very clear. [More than] 80 percent of people want to use it. Less than 5 percent want to pay for it."

JetBlue's ViaSat Internet is reliable. It works almost all the time, with a couple of exceptions. One is over parts of the Caribbean. And the other?

"We have one hiccup, which we see sometimes on flights to Seattle out of Boston. They can take a very northerly route and cross over Canada from Northern Ohio to Detroit. We can lose coverage over the Southern part of Ontario."

On the most popular routes.

"On the longer hauls, the transcons, you see very high take rate. We average in the mid-40s on the transcons like Boston-San Francisco. We have seen a number of flights when we have more devices connected than people on the plane."


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