Low-cost airline carrier JetBlue is stepping up its efforts to provide its customers with free in-flight WiFi. The company announced that it has completed installation of Fly-Fi -- the name of its satellite-based service -- on its fleet of more than 150 Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft.
In addition, JetBlue's first Fly-Fi-enabled E190 aircraft made its official inaugural flight this week. The airline anticipates it will complete the installation of Fly-Fi on all 60 of its E190s by fall 2016, at which point it will have finished the installation of Fly-Fi on the entire JetBlue fleet.
Fly-Fi uses Ka-band satellite technology to offer a broadband Internet experience similar to something customers have at home, including the ability to stream video and use multiple devices at once.
In an effort to improve the in-flight WiFi experience, JetBlue has also formed partnerships with a variety of media companies, including Amazon, MLB at Bat, and The Wall Street Journal.
JetBlue and Amazon are also preparing to bring unlimited, on-demand entertainment to passengers with the upcoming launch of Amazon Video onboard, giving Amazon Prime members instant streaming access to tens of thousands of movies and television episodes in-flight, at no additional cost with their membership.
"Soon every JetBlue customer will step onboard knowing their aircraft is equipped with free, fast Internet and entertainment, the same way they expect our friendly service and the most legroom in coach," Jamie Perry, vice president of brand and product development for JetBlue, wrote in an Oct. 14 statement. "Our Fly-Fi model has proven that there is a way to offer customers more without adding extra costs to their travel."
Customers connected to Fly-Fi, which boasts speeds of up to 20 Mbps per device, can also access content on The Hub, which hosts a growing collection of entertainment, educational content, news, and video from Vox Media, PBS, National Geographic, and others.
The company currently carries more than 32 million customers a year to 91 cities in the US, the Caribbean, and Latin America with an average of 875 daily flights.
Offering WiFi on domestic flights is not unusual, but JetBlue's complimentary service and focus on faster speeds could go a long way to assuaging customer complaints of spotty connectivity and middling value for money.
Virgin America's Gogo ATG-4 service also gets high marks, but there's more work to be done.
A 2014 report from Honeywell Aerospace indicated that in-flight WiFi is becoming increasingly influential on passengers' buying choices, including flight selections. In some cases, they will even pay more for a specific flight because of its wireless options.
[Read about AT&T offering WiFi calling.]
Nearly one in four (22%) surveyed admitted they've paid more for a flight with WiFi, and nearly one in five (17%) have switched from their preferred airline because another carrier had better WiFi offerings.
A more recent survey conducted by connected airline specialist SITA OnAir found that, while passengers want in-flight connectivity, very few expect to pay for it.
More than 20 airlines around the world are providing free in-flight WiFi today. According to SITA OnAir's estimates, more than double will do so by 2020.Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio