Five airlines offering onboard connectivity

9 Feb 2011

Free hotel wifi access is a corporate's ultimate dream, but when it comes to onboard connectivity, opinions are more mixed. Passengers either love it or hate it because the last bastion of privacy is inevitably being breeched. However, this has not prevented airlines from developing, and now offering the option of never losing touch with office or home.

Here are a few of those that are entering this new terrority.

The Russian airline began offering on-board mobile calls and SMS services on Christmas Eve last year.

Where is it offered? The carrier is currently offering the service on the Airbus A321 used for mid-haul journeys but will eventually roll it out on the A330 for trans-continental routes.

Supplier: Megafon is one of Russia’s three major phone services provider with 52 million subscribers. Passengers can make calls, send SMS messages and access the internet using the phone’s GPRS system. The carrier does not offer wifi yet for other devices such as laptops.

Cost: Aeroflot provided the service free of charge until January 31 this year, then decided to extend it to February 28. Rate details are expected to be released soon.

From next month, select aircraft will be equipped with phone services enabling passengers to make calls, send SMS and check emails.

Where is it available? Initially, this service will be limited to the new black A320 aircraft for domestic routes, but eventually – and after evaluating customer response – the carrier plans to introduce the perk on its fleet of Boeing B777-300s. Passengers are required to keep their phones on silent or vibrate to minimise disturbances.

Supplier: The service is provided by Vodafone and limited to Vodafone subscribers.

Cost: Text messages cost 80 cents per outbound message and calls cost US$2.7 per minute. Internet rates start at US$15.5 per megabyte of data. Receiving calls are priced at US$1.5 per minute.

The carrier has been providing mobile services since 2008 on 75 of its long-haul aircraft. Last year, it announced at the Farnborough International Airshow that it would eventually equip its entire A380 fleet with internet and mobile services provided by OnAir.

Where is it available? Mobile services are currently available on the A340, A330 and B777 aircraft. Eventually, Emirates’ entire A380 fleet will be equipped with OnAir.

Supplier: Currently, the airline uses Aeromobile to provide mobile services, and eventually, will also be using OnAir.

Costs: Aeromobile charges passengers based on their network’s international roaming rates. Similarly, OnAir uses an Immersat Swiftbroadband satellite turning the aircraft into a "connection zone". Passengers are therefore billed as per usual by network operators based on their individual roaming charges. To make calls, they will need to dial country codes.

Oman Air introduced both mobile and internet services simultaneously in January last year – the first airline to do so, thus earning the label of onboard connectivity pioneer.

Where is it available? Since the launch, the services have been a feature of the carrier’s long-haul A330 fleet.

Supplier: The service is provided by OnAir and is compatible with all network types and handsets.

Cost: Passengers will be billed according to their network providers’ roaming rates.

The Brazil-based carrier introduced onboard connectivity in October last year on the Airbus A321, which serves domestic routes.

Where is it available? After a successful pilot run, the airline has decided to extend the service in the second half of this year on 26 aircraft: the A319s, A320s and A321s, which also fly domestic routes.

Supplier: Like Oman Air, TAM uses the OnAir system enabling passengers to call, text and use the internet.

Cost: Prices are based on network providers’ individual roaming rates and passengers will be billed as per usual depending on their usage.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are certainly not going to be left behind in the connectivity game. SIA partners with OnAir to introduce the service later this year, while CX intends to equip its long- and short-haul fleet with these kinds of bells and whistles by 2012. For more information on services provided by other carriers, click here.

Alisha Haridasani

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