Another meeting in Europe, another flight, and another opportunity to test in-flight connectivity (IFC) for ourselves. This time, the flight was with Norwegian Air Shuttle, a carrier that is fast gaining a reputation for its customer experience, and the destination was Portugal.
The IFC for Norwegian is provided by Global Eagle Entertainment (Row 44) and at the time of writing is installed on all of its Boeing 737 aircraft. The first thing to note is that Norwegian has already drawn its line in the sand, in terms of its position on IFC; providing the service free of charge to passengers.
The service was activated as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off. Connecting via my smartphone, the service was initially very quick (a sign that I was perhaps too eager to log on). The first point of call was to log into Facebook, an application I perceive to be low end in terms of bandwidth consumption. I was able to use the site almost as quickly and seamlessly as I am on the ground. This was also the case for Twitter, which I used to post the tweet and image below.
When instant messaging, I encountered no issues uploading and downloading written messages and sending images only added a small amount of time to the messaging process, taking 40-50 seconds to upload and 30-40 seconds to download. But uploading a 10 second video clip, 1MB in size, took just shy of 5 minutes, which was possibly asking too much of the service. Nevertheless, it did send, which could well be viewed as a feat in itself.
Streaming video content via YouTube also proved to be a little difficult, although this could be attributed to more people using the service by this point and the fact video streaming is a high bandwidth application. A number of my attempts to stream video content resulted in an error message being shown (see first image below) but persistence paid off and I was eventually able to stream one or two videos, including an Olly Murs music video (see second image below). Funnily enough, when the video began to stream there was no issue with lag or loading messages, suggesting the service was able to cope.
It is the ability to carry out what I consider to be high bandwidth applications that is what I will take away from my experience of this service. I should add that I don’t know what the take-up rate was on the flight, but the fact I was able stream video content on YouTube and upload a video of my own really went above and beyond my expectation. Yes there were some niggles on the way but these were isolated and perhaps beside the point.
In a competitive sector, such as the airline industry, value added services, such as IFC, are becoming more and more important. Linked to this point, in a recent survey we carried as part of our IFC report, airlines indicated the number one reason for providing IFC was to differentiate themselves from or to keep up with the competition.
The IFC service on board Norwegian Air Shuttle went beyond my expectations as a passenger. I am undecided as to whether this wow factor came from me knowing too much about the limitations of IFC and therefore managing my own expectations and I question whether the everyday passenger will feel the same. But my thoughts are yes they will and the reason is that surfing the web in flight full stop is still very much a novelty outside the US. Just look at Twitter to see the posts from 36,000ft for evidence of this point. However, the novelty factor will gradually wear off and so all step levels of the IFC supply chain need to continue to push the boundaries until the experience of using the internet in-flight is akin to that of the experience on the ground. The IFC on board Norwegian Air Shuttle is certainly an indication that the industry is on the right path.