About a month ago, I had the opportunity to use in-flight connectivity (IFC) on board an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Boston. The Irish flag carrier now has the service available on all its A330s on transatlantic routes. At €20 (just over $25) for 24 hours’ access, it is by no means the cheapest offering out there but it is in line with other airlines using solutions from Panasonic Avionics. Lufthansa, for example, charges €19.95 for its HotSpot Pass Sky 24 pass, while Transaero Connect is similarly priced.
Even though rules surrounding in-flight personal electronic device usage have been relaxed, most passengers have become accustomed to the notion of not being able to use these devices in flight. Changing this perception takes time and by and large, airlines have done little to educate passengers that this is no longer the case. When dropping my baggage off, I asked an Aer Lingus employee if my flight would have IFC (I knew already that it would) and she replied that she had no idea. Even so, availability of the service was advertised in the in-flight magazine and there were Wi-Fi stickers placed around the cabin. In general, it is my belief that IFC is poorly marketed and Aer Lingus staff maybe ought to have mentioned availability of the service at some point, perhaps before or after the safety demo. Despite this, usage was still high and above average as I’ll go on to explain.
Logging onto the Wi-Fi service was a little troublesome and I do like to consider myself fairly at ease with technology. For some reason, I could not get the login portal to load on my laptop in either Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. To solve this, I took out my smartphone, noted the address and typed it into my laptop’s browser and I was then away. Admittedly, this could have been a problem with my laptop rather than a fault with the IFC. Once connected, the service cut out on one occasion. Unfortunately, logging back in was not as simple as it should have been. After a 20 minute wait, I had to click the “buy internet” option on the homepage in order to be returned to the screen where I could enter my username and password. The fact that you have to click a link that implies you have to buy something you’ve already bought just to restart the connection could be confusing for some. I should note that although the plane also offered in-flight cellular connectivity, I did not try it out. I didn’t see anybody else using it either.
The actual connection speed was pretty good. In fact, I was able to smugly stream extended match highlights on YouTube of Leicester City’s 5-3 demolition of Manchester United without any buffering (at 240p). Other than that, I could browse the Internet and upload/download documents as I would at home and that was pretty impressive given the number of other passengers that seemed to be connected at the same time as me and sharing the available bandwidth. A cursory glance at the 20 or so seats in my field of vision revealed 4 passengers were using laptops that appeared to be online. If replicated throughout the cabin, this would translate to take rates of 20 per cent – above the levels recorded by the likes of Gogo and Global Eagle Entertainment, but less than JetBlue’s Fly-Fi service. Indeed, when I took a walk around the plane, plenty of other people also appeared to be connected. The below screenshot shows the result of a speed test I ran while connected.
The only major problem I did encounter, and it’s not related to the quality of the IFC on offer, was the shamefully short battery life my laptop afforded me. Plenty of other people with their MacBook Airs and fancy Ultrabooks outlasted me by hours so it would have been nice to have had access to a charging socket. While Aer Lingus claims that in-seat power points are available “between every two seats in the Economy cabin”, I could find no evidence of this.
All in all, using the IFC on Aer Lingus was a pleasant experience and if the performance is matched on the other airlines using Panasonic technology, passengers will not be disappointed. That said, the pretty hefty price points will definitely deter many. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reviewing some of the IFC systems we’ve had the opportunity to test recently. This includes Iberia’s OnAir-powered offering and Norwegian Air Shuttle’s in-flight Wi-Fi which uses Global Eagle Entertainment’s solution. Stay tuned.
Further information on passenger in-flight connectivity can be found in our in-depth study on the subject.