Before the pandemic American Airlines was prepared to announce free inflight wifi. They didn’t want to do it, but Delta was testing it and if Delta went forward they were going to match whatever Delta did. (Delta ultimately found that their Gogo systems weren’t robust enough for all the usage free wifi entails.)
American doesn’t offer free wifi, but it’s something they still think about. Clarissa Sebastian, who is American’s Managing Director of Premium Customer Experience and Onboard Products, explained to employees in a meeting following this airline’s third quarter earnings call that right now they’re focused on different ways to sell wifi – from varying subscription plans to bundling wifi with fares.
We’re always weighing the investment of extending free wifi and seeing how that stacks up against other things we need to do for our customers. It is really expensive, it’s very expensive. And so those are not easy decisions. We’re always looking at what things can we do to make it better for our customers.
One of the things that we’re working on now is not free wifi, but is how do we make it easier for our customers to access the wifi. Do we make it where you can include it on the fares, there are longer subscription type of plans. There are a number of things we can do to make access to wifi easier and access to texting easier as well.
We did extend a trial of access to Facebook messenger so there is a form of free texting in the aircraft right now that does not cost our customers. We’re looking at which other ways do we have to extend that sort of benefit. And we’re always weighing those things against other product investments that we need to do.
I buy a monthly wifi subscription and this works out great for both me and for American Airlines.
- It costs me about the same as wifi on three flights a month, so I save money overall
- And since my wifi is prepaid, there’s no extra cost when I fly American but there’s an extra cost when I fly another airline. That means when price is the same between American and another carrier, my trip cost is lower with American. It’s like Amazon Prime where you’ve already paid for a service that gives you free shipping.
American offers free TikTok on board, which is to say they don’t require you to pay for wifi to post crazy videos of what happened on your American Airlines flight. And they whitelist Apple Music as well, which gives them a revenue stream.
I’d expect that American will eventually offer free wifi because everyone will offer free wifi, remaining connected will be something that’s expected as a basic element of the product as bandwidth grows and cost falls. But I’d be shocked if they were first among legacy airlines to pull the trigger, since they previously made an explicit decision not to be first and to do whatever Delta did. Their partner JetBlue, of course, offers free wifi already.