In-flight internet takes off in Qantas A380

When Qantas’ first A380 service to Los Angeles takes off in October customers will be able to access the internet on board opening up a whole new range of work and entertainment options. But just how much will it cost them?

Although previous attempts have often ended in disaster in-flight internet is becoming an increasingly common option. In the US American Airlines last week began trials of a service that it hopes to roll out on all its planes by early 2009 costing between $US9.95 and $US12.95 per flight for onboard access. Other airlines across the globe are also running trials using either satellite technology or specially developed mobile phone towers.

In Australia Qantas is leading the charge to put the internet in the air. One of the main selling points for its forthcoming service on the 450-seat A380 is the availability of laptop power at every seat and a wireless internet connection powered by satellite provider OnAir throughout the plane.

On domestic flights Qantas is trialling a system to allow customers to access the internet and send text messages via their mobile phones. That service is due to go live in 2009 meaning that the A380 will be the first Qantas plane to offer general internet access. Qantas also has the option of fitting the forthcoming Boeing Dreamliner 787 with internet and laptop power services though those planes aren’t due to Qantas until 2009 at the earliest.

How much will it cost?

Qantas began selling tickets on A380 services to the US in mid-June with the first flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles taking place on October 20. Flights to London will follow in early 2009.

However while you can buy a ticket it seems Qantas doesn’t yet want to confess how much the in-flight internet service will cost or what it will include. It has promoted “onboard connectivity” as part of the service though its official microsite for the A380 ignores that aspect to talk up the onboard entertainment options.

Despite repeated enquiries Qantas has not responded to APC’s questions regarding its pricing plans for internet access. It’s not even clear whether customers who have paid for a $20000 First Class ticket (which gets you your own suite and an on-board sommelier to help choose your wines) will be expected to cough up additional money for internet services.

Despite the official silence some details have leaked out. Information reportedly distributed to government travel agents suggests that initial flights will only offer access to webmail and instant messaging services along with a small amount of cached internet content. A fee separate to the ticket will be charged though a preview of your inbox content will be made available to tempt you into using the service. Full internet access (presumably at a higher price) will follow at a later date.

Previous attempts to offer internet access on planes haven’t always been a commercial success. In the most prominent example the satellite-broadband Connexion service from Boeing launched in 2004 was discontinued in 2006 after failing to attract sufficient customers. Connexion allowed each airline to set its own pricing model with most choosing either a per-flight or per-hour charge.

For business travellers and tech enthusiasts the price charged for Connexion was good value: access during a 24 hour flight cost less than $US30 in most cases. Those sorts of people realised that it was a small price to pay to be able to work on the flight with full access to Google and other internet resources. However it was probably an idea that was ahead of its time — the broader general public just didn’t see the value in paying that much for internet access at the time.