American Airlines Looking At More Ways To Sell Wifi, Rather Than Making It Free

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.

Facebook Messenger is finally free on board but at Media and Investor Day in 2017 American Airlines announced that they’d offer free inflight texting before quietly reneging on that commitment.

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Not only does JetBlue offer free WiFi, but it’s gate to gate and fast (15 mb). Between that, several power plugs, tracking the news on satellite tv and the space, even in core, though Evenmore is perfect, it’s as close to replicating my desk as one could get. On all other carriers I read a book or accept a massive productivity hit, certainly if I need a connected laptop, that I can reliably open and use.

  2. Looks like American is suffering from its own end of the month staffing crisis with 10% of flights cancelled before the day even starts and w/o a single ATC delay being implemented. DFW had minimal ATC delays but AA still had hundreds of system cancellations at multiple hubs.
    Could be a ghastly weekend for those that chose to fly AA.

  3. American Airlines WIFI is pathetic. From the offering of at least three different providers, slow speeds, and a monthly subscription that only US credit card holders can sign up for I guess this is their idea of “Going For Great”. This is a US based carrier that flies globally but thinks locally. Their new slogan should be “Tools In Texas” for their backward mindset. I noticed in you article that Clarissa Sebastian, American’s Managing Director of Premium Customer Experience and Onboard Products, contends that American are “focused on different ways to sell wifi”. Well Claire, you have hog-tied yourself from jump by limiting who can actually subscribe to your monthly WIFI service! Let’s be clear. The way to sign up for the monthly WIFI is via your AA credentials. The same account your saved credit cards AA stores in their system to purchase tickets and upgrades, won’t allow non-US members of any tier to purchase WIFI. My suggestion to Claire is pick the low hanging fruit before complaining about how expensive it is to provide WIFI for free. You are losing out on money that could be in AA’s coffers. Oh, and fix the integration of WIFI on the trans-continental 777’s which I believe the monthly subscription doesn’t cover. The $29.99 each way is slightly less than the $49 LAX to LAS ticket I just purchased. AA needs top level management with something of a clue. I think that the last nail in the coffin is the new Loyalty Points scheme. You’ve gotta be a real AA Loyalist not to reevaluate switching to either Alaska or JetBlue and getting most of the perks from AA and slotting in just behind the AA Emeralds for domestic upgrades. Delta from the very start of requiring a dollar component to obtaining status of their various tiers made an exception for foreign based members. Something that AA decided not to follow. Now with the new Loyalty Points scheme they may as well rename it Local Points. Just who is running the show at that “Global Airline”? I use the term Global Airline in jest.

  4. Tim Dunn – I felt this gathering with my Thursday evening AA flight ORD – DFW. 2 cancellations, the entire remainder of the ORD-DFW schedule 2-3 hours late for no apparent weather reason, and a 150+ person AA re-booking line observed in DFW Terminal C @ 10 pm. Happy to have dodged the bullet & made it home (this time), though my inbound lie-flat jumbo from London had been on the ground in ORD for half a day before scheduled departure, yet still went out 2 hours late. I expect this holiday season to be a bloodbath of AA cancellations & system-wide chaos. They are not ready & continue to skimp. Perhaps the obviously commonsense the “keep the crew together” approach AA recently claimed to be re-instituting will ameliorate the issues they seem unable to solve of getting the right personnel in place to deliver the product they claim to be their chief selling point, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  5. @Tim Dunn
    AA’s problems started on Thursday with consistent 30mph winds in Dallas with gusts to 50. The wind wasn’t quite as bad on Friday, but still pretty high. For a nice sunny day, the were lots of fallen tree branches and downed power lines, some of the tree damaged or killed in the February freeze.

    There were many cancellations, leaving crew out of position and burning through duty time and reserves. When I looked at FlightAware’s misery map on Thursday afternoon, 60 to 70% of the flights in and out of DFW at that moment were cancelled or delayed. I would be surprised if Southest didn’t have similar issues, but their all 737 equipment might be better able to deal with crosswinds than regional jets. The winds were from the northwest, giving a decent crosswind for DFW’s north-south runways.

    While crew shortages by the end of the month may have contributed, weather played a big role. It just wasn’t apparent on weather maps because of no storms.

  6. How are you supposed to watch movies while squinting at your phone if there’s no Wi-Fi? American hates IFE like Marriott hates engaged loyalty members.

  7. It is no surprise to anyone that weather happens, esp. in the fall. American simply does not have the resources to recover from a weather issue that happens in the final week of the month. This same rash of cancellation has happened multiple times this year after weather events in the final week of the month.

    Keeping crews together doesn’t fix the problem if there aren’t crews together and as long as American operates a hub at DFW spread out over more real estate than any other airline hub in the world. DFW was never designed to be a connecting hub and the massive multi-terminal configuration is what is necessary to push that kind of volume through the airport – but it comes at a high cost in terms of personnel costs and in terms of the ability to operate efficiently. AA execs even pre-pandemic acknowledged part of the reason for their higher personnel costs is because of the size and spread of their operation at DFW.

    AA’s reliability will be challenged because DFW is such a large part of their operation and because they cannot economically compete with lower cost airlines and more efficient airports.

  8. @ Tim Dunn

    the FA’s that were on leave because of the pandemic are coming back ; 3k on Nov 1 and 1k in December.

  9. Yet another reason I avoid AA like the plague. AA customers really must be gluttons for punishment to put up with them. Thanks, but no thanks.

  10. Don’t care about free Wi-Fi. I can watch a movie on my tablet. I have my own music downloads and my games are all offline.
    I am retired so I’m not working. I’m just trying to enjoy the flight.
    Free Wi-Fi really is not a deal breaker for me.

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