As most travel suppliers have discovered, Wi-Fi has become a core expectation of travelers.
When it comes to the airlines, travelers are mostly willing to pay a fee for Wi-Fi access inflight, reasoning that the fees are justified because of the extra costs associated with in-the-air services.
Hotel guests, on the other hand, have expressed their displeasure at being charged for a service they could get for free at the coffee shop down the street. And the trend among the largest hotel chains has been toward eliminating fees, at least for basic Wi-Fi.
Airports, which are more like hotels than they are like airlines, have been slower to heed consumers’ call for free Wi-Fi. That’s probably at least in part because they don’t operate under the same competitive pressures that drive most businesses. For most travelers, their hometown airport is their only realistic choice. The airport has a lock on their business, so there’s no compelling reason to exceed customers’ expectations, or even to consider them.
But today, the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, added its name to the list of airports that provide travelers free Wi-Fi access. (Previously, there was a $5 charge.)
To accommodate the change, and the anticipated increase in usage, the airport upgraded its Wi-Fi infrastructure to handle as many as 15,000 users simultaneously, up from the previous system’s limit of 2,000 users.
So, why is Atlanta incurring the upfront costs and the loss of revenue associated with the change?
Although it enjoys a solid base of origin-destination traffic, Atlanta is mostly a connection airport, where passengers change planes on their way from the east to the west, for example. And travelers do have choices when their trips require a connection. They could, for instance, choose to change planes in Denver, or in Dallas, or in Chicago.
The world’s busiest airport, in other words, seems to be hoping that free Wi-Fi will help it become even busier.
Reader Reality Check
Is free Wi-Fi enough of an incentive to encourage you to fly through Atlanta (or any airport, for that matter)?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.