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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28 Comments on "Qantas Walks Away From Inflight Internet on Its Longest Routes"

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David
Guest
How much does Internet in flight cost the airline to provide, particularly when flying over places which are either sea or have very little population ? How much does Qantas make as revenue from passengers who use Internet ? If these 2 numbers give a huge financial loss, it says to me that while some people might make a fuss, the demand just isn’t there yet. Putting Internet on long haul aircraft requires capital investment. If the return on the investment is negative, better to wait a year or two until the return on investment is worthwhile Airlines in the… Read more »
JRS
Guest

I remember my first transatlantic flight from Detroit to Brussels way back in 1971
there really was nothing to do unless you brought some reading material along or
slept. No inflight movies on this plane, you just stared at the back of a seat, somehow I survived. Times certainly change.

Patrick
Guest

One question I have is just how usable was the internet? I’ve been on a couple of Norwegian Air flights with free wifi, and it has been horrible. –If I had paid money for it, I would have been demanding a refund.

Oliver
Guest

Perhaps it was horrible exactly because it was free? If they charged a nominal fee, fewer people would use it and those who do would receive more of the limited bandwidth.

noahkimmel
Member

But perhaps the loss of goodwill towards the airline from poor service is greater than just not offering it at all

Fred
Guest

Two years ago (and maybe last year as well) Delta had free Wifi in December, thanks to Google. I used it then along with many other passengers on a full 757, and it wasn’t bad. Certainly good enough for email, news, wikipedia and the like.
The speed must depend partially on how the airline implements it and perhaps geographic location as well.

A
Guest
What is the cost to the airline for adding wi-fi? I mean once you have the sunk costs for the hardware it can’t be that bad, can it? The thing that I think keeps most people from doing wi-fi on board is the price. When traveling for work I have to think of accounting and what’s going to happen when I submit an expense report. I’ve basically been told that wi-fi isn’t approved for domestic flights because the expense is too high for the amount of time in the air. Flying from the mid-west we don’t have the long LA… Read more »
Neil
Guest

I used to use the internet on Lufthansa flights from SFO to MUC all the time. It was reasonably speedy and not so expensive. And yeah, though I slept for most of the flight to Germany, there were still a few hours to work. and the flight back was all online, great for catching up on email.

kelty
Member

Flying for me is a break from the routine. No grass to cut, snow to shovel, or e-mails to return. Catch up on some interesting technical journals and carry along some light reading. Eat whatever is served and then lean back on the reclining chair for some shut-eye. Intermittent wifi and “edited” movies aren’t attractions for me.

Sanjeev M
Guest

Agreed. I can live without internet for a day or two. The window is the best form of entertainment. Food is a close second (provided its actually good :)

Bobber
Guest

It’s amazing how important some people think they are, that the World can’t cope with their absence for up to 15hrs…..

ron.keith
Member

How much fueldoes it cost to drag the antenna through the air and carry the server in the plane for 15 hours? Is that more than the revenue? Is that more than the competitive advantage?

Nick Barnard
Member

You have to pay to rent the satellite time to backhaul the internet traffic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Qantas is leaving the equipment on the planes until their next heavier maintenance, just disabling the equipment.

The other question is how many onboard WiFi access points does it take to provide access to a plane as large as a A380? I’d expect four to eight…

jboekhoud
Member
Few thoughts on this…. Qantas put wifi on a few planes as a trial, and now it’s time to decide whether or not to roll this out to the entire fleet. Based on the trial data, they’ve decided not to. Yes, I suppose they could keep the existing installations going, but then they’d get slammed for product inconsistency when people show up expecting a wifi-enabled plane and there’s an equipment swap. The passenger mix may also be partly to blame. Business travellers are more likely than tourists to use in-flight wifi, and if you follow Australian Business Traveller it seems… Read more »
james
Guest
@ed kelty and @Bobber: I agree with you in theory, but not everybody relies on connectivity for narcissistic reasons. I have my “off the grid” vacation time and am appreciative for it. However other trips I stay in touch – and being available remotely gives me more flexibility to travel for personal reasons. I enjoy the fact that sometimes I can “work from anywhere” – and having reliable internet on long hauls adds to my arsenal – even if I would only use it rarely. Just because it’s not necessary for one person doesn’t mean it’s not valuable for another,… Read more »
Hillrider
Guest

Sane decision. They’re already losing money, no need to throw good money after bad. Yes, Wi-Fi it’s a deal breaker for some (a subset of 5%), but I’m probably in the majority when I say that I’d rather QF use that money on meals and IFE.

David SF eastbay
Member

Remember Qantas is giving up all but SYD-LHR in Europe to connex via DXB with EK so a lot of long haul for them is leaving and for long haul to N.America and service up to Asia, they just don’t think it’s worth it. Do Asian business travelers work on the plane as American business travelers do, or to they want to relax and enjoy the first/business class travel experience?

If the demand wasn’t there why loose money on it in case people might want to use it sometime.

SouthernCross
Guest

“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.”

Actually, they DO sometimes sit around all day waiting for the sun to set. Certain key routes (example: SYD-LAX) are nighttime operations and in LAX QF flights arrive in the morning and depart in the late evening. Take a look at the LAX hardstand mid-afternoon and tell us that the airplanes don’t sit around waiting for the sun to set. ;)

malbarda
Member

I think having online access on a plane is not necessary. I don’t know if Delta, GOGO or any of the others have ever released figures but I am sure the uptake must be low. I would not pay for it myself, and would not get it past accounting when submitting expenses. Many places now also tell you that hotel wifi is no longer something you can expense.

martin
Member
One day a textbook will be written on how to sink an airline and the primary case study will be Qantas. Yes, Arcanum many business travellers are abandoning Qantas for Emirates and Cathay. Why are they abandoning an airline that used to be in the top ten in the world? Because the current management have lost sight of their customers. And this is a decision that shows just that. Qantas used to be a leader and now its becoming a late follower. Yes, only 5% used it today. Maybe 2013 it would be 10% and in 2014 20%. I fly… Read more »
Trent880
Guest
Inflight internet has been around for years, and no carrier, and most (all?) providers, have yet been able to make much of anything work. Boeing even shut down their own attempt. The take rates are microscopic, and the growth rates are anemic, to the point that it’s understandable that many carriers, and even some providers, are just giving up. By the time the demand grows enough to even begin to cover the costs of the technology, there will be new technology. I think the reality is people *like* to be on the internet, but at any price at a penny… Read more »
Hold the Peas
Guest

We flew from MEL to LAX in August with Qantas and there was a card in the seat pocket explaining the wi-fi. I can’t remember the cost but I know at the time I thought it was expensive. Hubby tried to access it but it was really really slow so he gave up. Not sure if it was offered on the return flight.

marks
Guest

This is the company whose management won’t consider the B777, and grounded its whole operations because of aircrew stress. And don’t mention the fiasco of the business class seats recently. Not to mention that their strategy for getting the international division back to profit is to NOT invest in new aeroplanes, while all their competitors are moving to more economical plant.

What else would you expect them to do in regard to wifi?

martin
Member

hear hear

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