Qantas abandons in-flight internet

Qantas’ first A380 flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles is due to take off in just over a month but plans to offer Internet access on the much hyped Airbus plane have been grounded at the last minute.

Having already delayed announcing pricing for the service earlier this year Qantas has now delayed offering full Internet access on its planes until early 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that instead of full access customers will be offered a “cached Internet service” with limited content.  A Qantas spokesperson told the SMH that “logistical and regulatory” were behind the delay.

There’s been a whiff of suspicion around Qantas’ plans for some time. When APC asked Qantas back in June how much the service would cost we initially got not reply at all and were eventually told “Pricing for Internet access on the A380 has not been finalised at this stage.”

But why the last minute change of plans? There are at least three possible explanations:

Fear of a porn planet. The SMH report links Qantas’ decision to recent controversy in the US over whether airline staff on American Airlines which has started offering onboard Net access should stop customers from viewing porn whilst flying. While we’re all for mentioning porn in a tech context this seems like a bit of a stretch. Though admittedly Qantas wasn’t too impressed when stewardess Lisa Robertson got it in with Ralph Fiennes in first class in 2007 and perhaps doesn’t want people getting any hornier while on board.

Technical incompetence. In-flight entertainment systems are quite hard enough to keep operational without adding a potentially infinite world of online content into the mix. While I was on a recent Qantas flight the entertainment system had to be rebooted which produced the surprising revelation that the base operating system being used was Windows CE (which you’ll know as Windows Mobile these days). Now I’ve never met a Windows Mobile system that didn’t view a moderately large web page as an excuse to demand a complete reboot so if the new platform is being built in the same way it’s no wonder there are problems.

No need to fan the flames further. Qantas has been taking a hammering in the press recently with news editors apparently deciding that any minor delay on a flight is worth a story. While much of that coverage seems unjustified the flow of criticism has been relentless and the last thing the airline needs is another excuse to get beaten up. In-flight Internet offers so many potential opportunities in that regard — failure to work porn access annoying people making Skype calls blocking competitor websites — that perhaps the airline decided to cut its losses and take a brief hammering now rather than open the floodgates.