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Qantas Walks Away From Inflight Internet on Its Longest Routes

It didn’t make huge news, but last week when Qantas announced it had decided to stop offering internet onboard on its A380 fleet after a trial run, it caught my eye. After all, with airlines racing to install internet across the globe, this seems to fly in the face of general industry practice. Is this smart or simply short-sighted?

Qantas Pulls Internet

The airline installed wifi on a handful of A380s and offered it on flights from Australia to London and to the US from March through November. After the test concluded, Qantas decided it wasn’t worth it. Apparently, about 5 percent of travelers used the service and that wasn’t enough.

Qantas said:

Right now, our customers are telling us that access to the Internet on the ground is more important than in the air. We are continuing to invest in upgrading Wi-Fi technology across our domestic and international lounge network. We will continue to evaluate demand for Wi-Fi options onboard.

Wifi in lounges? That’s an absolute requirement. I’m not sure what kind of upgrading the airline is doing, but that should be a given to have functioning internet there. That should have nothing to do with the decision to offer it onboard flights that take 15 hours or more.

The 5 percent usage rate (with prices going from about A$13 to A$40) is low, but it’s not absurdly low compared to what others have seen. But the whole point of wifi is that in an increasingly connected world, people will start demanding this more and more. If Qantas has already put the antennas on some airplanes, it’s already done the hard part. So is this just the airline thinking short term and not really realizing that it needs wifi in the long run? Quite possibly.

But Qantas thinks that it’s special compared to other airlines.

Most of our A380 services operate at night and so another dampener on demand was the fact people preferred to sleep than surf the Web

It is true that Qantas has a lot of night flying, but come on. It’s not like these airplanes just sit around all day waiting for the sun to set.

The flights from LA to Australia and from Australia to London leave late in the evening and arrive early morning. But they’re still more than 15 hours long. People don’t sleep for 15 hours. Besides, the return flights leave in the early afternoon to LA . Yes, they go overnight, but there is still plenty of time during the day. From London, it’s an evening departure but you basically fly through an entire day with two overnights.

I suppose the point is that anytime you have really long flights, people will be looking for distractions. Maybe they aren’t looking for internet as much yet, but that will change over time. We’ve already seen it change domestically as more people have come to expect it on their flights.

Will this move hurt Qantas? It could. Delta is getting ready to put wifi on its international aircraft, and that will compete on the LA run. United is doing the same. Going over to London, its new partner Emirates is doing wifi as is Singapore. I believe Cathay is working on a test too.

So Qantas risks being the odd man out. Maybe those people with no self control who hate being connected will prefer Qantas, but for the rest, this could be a short-sighted decision. Then again, if Qantas starts seeing demand go downhill, I’d bet it reconsiders this move. But you can’t just flip a switch and have internet right away. It takes time, and that could hurt.

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