In-flight Wi-Fi is to airlines as trendy sneakers are to high schoolers: You have to have it or else, like, you’re totally not cool. Take JetBlue, for example. It was among the first to explore the frontier of in-flight Internet, way back in 2007. Since then, however, the industry has leapt ahead, leaving JetBlue alone in the lunch room with an outdated Internet product installed on only one plane.
But do airline passengers actually care about in-flight Wi-Fi? According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Scott McCartney, not really—at least not when they have to pay for it. “In tests and now in regular service, usage drops off considerably when travelers must pay for the service,” McCartney writes. “Alaska Airlines even tested charging just $1. The result: a lot fewer laptops, BlackBerrys and iPhones signed on.”
Of course, one possible unseen benefit of in-flight Wi-Fi is tied to one of its main goals: Entice business travelers. If the few people that do pay for wireless are business travelers who might have otherwise chosen a different airline, does that make the product a success? For smaller carriers like Virgin America, which operates coast-to-coast routes between major business and technology centers, absolutely. But for massive carriers with lots of short-haul routes between largely residential or tourist destinations, in-flight Wi-Fi may not turn out to be a win.
Readers, what about you? Would you pay for in-flight Wi-Fi if you weren’t traveling on business? Would you pay for it at all? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.