In-flight Wi-Fi Prices Still Up in the Air for Alaska Airlines

As a free service, Alaska Airlines' test trials of in-flight Wi-Fi is an unquestioned hit. Now the hard part, how much to charge?

Alaska Airlines is evaluating pricing models for its in-flight Wi-Fi service after a successful trial run that offered free wireless Internet connections on flights between Seattle and San Jose, Calif. Since the Feb. 26 Wi-Fi launch on a handful of Boeing 737-700s, more than 2,100 customers have logged on to the service.
According to Alaska Airline surveys, more than 96 percent of the users have reported a good experience using the Wi-Fi service, with more than 78 percent of those either "extremely likely" or "very likely" to recommend it.
Now the hard part: what to charge for the service when Alaska Airlines expands the Wi-Fi service to more planes in its fleet? The airline plans to set a final price for the service later this year.
"Our most important consideration in determining the price of Alaska Airlines Inflight Wi-Fi is providing value to our passengers," Steve Jarvis, Alaska's vice president of marketing, sales and customer experience, said in a statement. "The initial feedback we're getting is overwhelmingly positive. We will continue to optimize the service and listen closely to our customers to find the right price that is both competitive with other airlines and fits comfortably within our passengers' budgets."
American Airlines and Delta are also testing Wi-Fi in-flight services. American currently charges $12.95 for transcontinental flights, with shorter routes costing $9.95. Handheld device users are charged $7.95. Delta charges a flat fee of $9.95 on flights of 3 hours or less and $12.95 for longer flights. Both American and Delta employ ground-to-air technology from Aircell to provide the Wi-Fi service.
Like Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines is currently offering free Wi-Fi on selected flights using satellite-to-plane technology developed by Row 44.
The Row 44 system provides downlink data rates averaging 30M bps and 620K bps maximum in the uplink direction. Along with providing broadband for passengers, Row 44's technology provides the airlines with a broadband link for operational data. The system weighs less than 150 pounds.
Row 44's major system components include a low-profile antenna mounted to the top of the fuselage. Four compact line-replaceable units are installed above the cabin headlining just below the antenna: a server management unit, a high-power amplifier, an antenna control unit and a modem data unit. To distribute a Wi-Fi signal, one or more wireless access units are placed in the airplane cabin.