JAL to bring Wi-Fi service to entire fleet

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TOKYO — Japan Airlines will begin offering Wi-Fi service on all domestic and international flights by the end of fiscal 2016, with the exception of soon-to-retire small aircraft and propeller planes.

Although the installation of equipment will cost about 100 million yen ($969,930) per plane, JAL decided to improve customer service to compete with foreign rivals as smartphone-carrying customers increasingly choose airlines based on Internet access during flights.

JAL introduced Wi-Fi service on select international routes in July 2012, and it will become the first to offer the service on major domestic routes this July. It plans to install the necessary equipment on 66 planes used for international flights and 77 flown on domestic routes by March 31, 2017.

The total cost for equipment, including satellite communications antennas installed on the outside of the aircraft, is estimated at more than 10 billion yen.

JAL charges $11.95 per hour or $21.95 for the entire flight for Wi-Fi service on international routes. The charge for domestic flights will vary by flight duration and aircraft, but Wi-Fi access using smartphones will cost 500 yen for Tokyo-Osaka flights. Users will have free access to on-board content, such as news and tourist information.

Meanwhile, All Nippon Airways began offering Internet service on some international routes in March. It plans to modify 28 aircraft by the end of the current fiscal year, focusing on routes connecting Japan with major cities in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Since its service is slower than JAL’s, ANA recommends use of smartphones rather than laptop computers, but it has set a more affordable pay-as-you-go rate starting at $6 to attract users other than business travellers.

Boeing launched an Internet service in 2004. JAL and ANA adopted it on some international routes, but the U.S. aircraft manufacturer pulled the plug two years later due to a dearth of users. However, the situation has changed as more consumers want to use their smartphones while on the move. Demand for Internet access on international flights has grown especially strong due to the long travel times.

For the major carriers, investment in Wi-Fi equipment has become necessary to differentiate themselves from budget carriers, which have grown in recent years.

Among foreign rivals, Germany’s Lufthansa plans to make Wi-Fi service available on almost all long-distance flights starting this year while U.S. carrier Delta intends to do so beginning in 2015.

Article from Nikkei Asian Review

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