Business travelers want in-flight Wi-Fi, survey says

Half would change a reservation by a day to get Wi-Fi on the plane

Three quarters of frequent business travelers polled in a recent survey said they would choose an airline based on whether a flight offers Wi-Fi, with half of the respondents saying they would even move a reservation by a day to get access to in-flight Wi-Fi.

The results of the survey, which was conducted by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance, would seem to validate the efforts of at least eight U.S. airlines to attract more passengers by equipping their fleets with Wi-Fi. Already, more than 500 planes offer Wi-Fi and several major airlines are hurrying to equip their entire fleets with the technology, partly in hopes of encouraging passengers to pick their flights over a competitor's.

The survey involved 480 frequent business travelers, of whom 150 had used in-flight Wi-Fi in early August.

Nearly all the respondents, 95%, said in-flight Wi-Fi access would make them more productive, and half reported that they had often taken a red-eye flight so they could remain reachable during business hours.

The survey did not analyze the cost of Wi-Fi access, which can be more than $12 for a long trip, although airlines are expected to offer a variety of pricing plans, with some offerings well below $12.

"When you add up the productivity hit and boredom that comes with no Wi-Fi, that makes [Wi-Fi in flight] pretty compelling," said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at the Wi-Fi Alliance, in an interview "People pay for Wi-Fi in coffee shops, and clearly it is a service that people pay for."

Globally, some Wi-Fi hot spot prices have come down as more hot spots become available, Davis-Felner said. "I'd expect the airlines to continue to experiment with costs, maybe with a Wi-Fi benefit for elite club travelers," she added.

Davis-Felner agreed with analysts who think airlines will try to expand Wi-Fi across their entire fleets to attract travelers who now sometimes guess when making reservations about whether a particular flight will have Wi-Fi.

She said that Southwest Airlines, with a national footprint and similar planes that can be equipped more easily, hopes to deploy Wi-Fi quickly. "They will really use it at a differentiator," she said. "Perks like Wi-Fi drive loyalty."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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