Flight connections: Inflight device usage

17:00, May 03 2014

When the US Government ruled that using your phone throughout your flight was not the safety risk previously thought, many feared flying would get even more painful, with passengers bellowing into their phones at 30,000 feet.

For those who welcome the call to "switch off all electronic devices", that would be worse than a cabin full of teething toddlers. The lack of phone reception and internet capability also gives business travellers a chance to relax.

But travellers on JetBlue or Norwegian Air can't use the excuse, "Sorry I couldn't reply to your email, I was flying," as those carriers offer onboard wi-fi internet connections throughout the flight.

New Zealand travellers are largely unable to access the world of procrastination, the internet, because the aviation industry here has been relatively slow to embrace onboard wi-fi. Some may grizzle, but perhaps they are put off by the high set-up costs and international experiments with the technology.

Norwegian Air admitted that despite the freebie service only a third of customers use it, so it had not lured customers from rival airlines. Emirates is the only airline common to our skies that offered passengers the chance to tweet or skype to their hearts content, which proves it can be done without breaking Civil Aviation Authority regulations.



An airline spokeswoman said demand for onboard wi-fi was not very high, even for business customers. The national carrier said it was always assessing technology offerings but had no plans to bring in onboard wi-fi in 2014.


Jetstar said it was a leisure airline and passengers enjoy being able to "switch off" during the flight. A spokesman said with more airports offering free wi-fi across New Zealand and relatively short flight times, there is minimal demand. The low-cost carrier does not offer wi-fi connectivity onboard its New Zealand flights, but if they did you could bet your bottom dollar you'd be paying for it.


Virgin Australia blamed connectivity and satellite issues on the ground as the main reason why it can't offer internet access for flights across the Tasman or Australia. It said it would need to invest with a telco in order to fund satellites, which would not be happening in the near future. Instead the airline offers an app for travellers to download beforehand that lets them stream movies, music and programmes from its onboard depository, creating a semi-portable in-flight entertainment system.


The flying kangaroo said it tested the demands of flyers wanting internet connectivity throughout their flight when it trialled paid internet services to passengers in 2012 between Australia and LA. A spokeswoman said the price may have been a deterrent, but generally passengers on the trial prioritised sleep, with take-up being "extremely low" and it didn't justify the operational costs. Instead, they now offer a streaming service similar to Virgin Australia's offer.


The Qantas partner is the pioneer airline offering wi-fi connectivity on its three daily flights out of Auckland, but passengers pay between US$2.75 to US$7.50 for the service. It's cheaper to browse the internet from a smartphone rather than a laptop, but even at a price Emirates is the only option for internet addicts flying the Tasman.

Sunday Star Times