Tuesday 25 September 2018

June D-Day for launch of fast Europe-wide wifi on flights

British Airways is rolling out its new long-haul wifi – but you’ll be lucky to find it on board just yet
British Airways is rolling out its new long-haul wifi – but you’ll be lucky to find it on board just yet
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

This summer should see moves in the progress of in-flight connectivity with the latest push to connect passengers over Europe.

Germany's Deutsche Telekom and communications firm Inmarsat are behind the European Aviation Network (EAN), which they say will now launch by the end of June.

The project, to provide reliable onboard wifi on intra-European flights, has 300 base stations now in place across the Continent, working alongside satellite technology.

The network's companies say it will be a massive step-up (think 4G) from satellite-only wifi, which is patchy at best and so, so slow.

The launch customer is IAG, owner of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling.

The downside is that the rollout won't be instantaneous, with no word yet on which flights will offer the service at first.

Short-haul connectivity has been slow to get off the ground, with Ryanair in particular shooting down any calls to introduce it.

Chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs told this column only last year that it was a non-runner for the moment because most of its flights are short, and because the technology puts more drag on the plane, raising fuel costs.

British Airways, meanwhile, is finally getting on board with wifi technology on long-haul routes. One caveat though - a mere total of three aircraft out of 118 will have the service initially, but if you're really lucky to get it, the first hour online will be free for a limited time, courtesy of a deal with Visa.

BA itself said in a statement that "by 2019 we expect to have 90pc of our aircraft connected. While we begin to roll out wifi, customers will only be notified once on board a connected flight". So it's pot luck then.

After your complimentary hour is up, the basic browsing package - appropriately called Browse - starts at £4.99 (€5.64) while the more powerful Stream, for Netflix and video-streaming, starts at £7.99 (€9).

Browse will have a minimum speed of 250Kbps, the airline said, while Stream offers "no less than approximately 1Mbps", so it should be okay for watching YouTube and so on.

More and more airlines are starting to offer wifi on their planes to meet passenger demand to be connected during flights as well as seek new revenue opportunities.

According to latest stats from Routehappy, which provides a database of information on flight amenities, 82 airlines worldwide now offer in-flight wifi, up 17pc, which is considerable, on last year. But only eight airlines offer free in-flight wifi. These are Emirates, JetBlue, Norwegian, Turkish Airlines, Air China, Philippine Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Nok Air.

Still, the trend will be towards getting you connected in the clouds - with airlines monetising the service through a combination of price structures - the eventual elimination of expensive on-board screens and selling you products and services through your portal.

***

Regular travellers might be alarmed - or if they haven't read the report, they will be now - about a study showing just how many germs they could encounter at airports, or on board aircraft.

The big germ-carrier? Those self check-in kiosks that are now commonplace at most major airports.

The new study by America's insurancequotes.com revealed that those check-in screens contain an average of 253,857 colony-forming units (CFUs), ie bugs, with one recording a nasty-sounding one million-plus.

The study was conducted in three US airports, but doesn't identify them, but does name-check Atlanta's sprawling Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is America's busiest hub. A place a bit like death, we're all going to end up there eventually.

Other potentially sickening places are airport bench and seat armrests and water fountains, with around 20,000 CFUs each.

And your humble toilet seat at home? A mere 172 CFUs on average. It's no better on board, with loo flush buttons boasting an average of 95,145 CFUs, tray tables at 11,595 and seat belt buckles at 1,116.

Still, while no one wants to be surrounded by the kind of bugs that could produce pus-charging infections, it's worth noting that you're no better off in daily life. Your mobile phone? Around 1.6m CFUs, just ahead of your mouse. Worse still, your computer keyboard, typically with 3.5m CFUs. Lovely.

Sunday Indo Business

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