Wi-Fi on flights may be too pricey for most passengers

While much has been made of India allowing Wi-Fi on flights, the service will probably be out of the reach of the average passenger, as it is likely to cost 20-30 per cent of the fare, or Rs500 for 30 minutes, to use in-flight data connectivity.

Airlines are considering options to introduce the facility after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued an order permitting in-flight voice and data connectivity.

The move may help airlines add value to their international business class travellers but may not be an option for low-cost carriers or for short domestic flights, as the charges levied by service providers for slots on satellites are expensive. Airlines have to pay service providers like Inmarsat and others a hefty sum to activate in-flight net connectivity.

An airline official told The Times of India that Trai's order permitting in-flight net connection would be an advantage for flights that traverse the peninsula on intercontinental routes. These flights will no longer have to switch off the Wi-Fi when in Indian airspace.

"We are reviewing the order and are discussing the feasibility of having the facility on domestic flights. The cost and demand may have to be factored in before taking a decision," said an official of a private airline.

Airlines will have to install antennae on planes based on how they decide to receive and send the signals, either over mobile towers on the ground or via satellites.

In general, the service is likely to be too expensive to find many takers even on international routes.

Air Passengers' Association of India national president D Sudhakara Reddy told ToI, "The in-flight data connectivity may be useful on long-haul flights. But I have hardly seen anyone use it or ask for it on international routes. It may be good in an emergency. Going by the international experience of passengers, it may not be viable for low-cost carriers."

Some airlines allow passengers to use Wi-Fi free of charge for WhatsApp and other messenger services which do not need much bandwidth. Lufthansa, Emirates, British Airways and Delta are among the airlines that offer the service on international routes.