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Passengers Unwilling to Pay for Wi-Fi

Everyone seems to be excited about wireless access on airplanes these days. Airlines are scrambling to add service across more aircraft, presumably because travelers are clamoring for it. AirTran and Virgin America both provide fleetwide GoGo Wi-Fi service. American and Delta offer GoGo on some routes, and Alaska, Southwest, and United are planning to add wireless access soon.

But what passengers want and what they’re willing to pay for are two different things, says Joe Brancatelli. Fewer than 10 percent of passengers are even logging on—and most of them do it for free. After all, both Virgin America and Delta are offering promotions during the holiday season that offer free Wi-Fi to travelers. And Google is sponsoring free access at 47 airports nationwide, which might be more appealing to travelers than in-flight Wi-Fi. (Have you ever tried to open a laptop in coach? Yeesh!)

So what is it about the price tag for Internet access on airplanes that is so off-putting? While testing the Row44 Wi-Fi service on its planes, Alaska found that even a one-dollar charge resulted in a large drop-off of customers. It could be that the freebie coupons and promotions are actually working against the airlines: Instead of hooking passengers on the service and turning them into paying customers, it actually reduces the value associated with in-flight Wi-Fi, creating a situation where people are unwilling to pay for a service they think they should receive gratis.

So, readers, what do you think? Are you willing to pay for in-flight wireless access? If not, why?

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