A survey has revealed that the percentage of airline passengers wanting to be connected to the internet when flying is dramatically higher than a few years ago. Jenny Southan reports

According to a survey of 11,000 global air travellers by Inmarsat, 97 per cent of passengers use personal devices for entertainment, social media or work when in the air, and the subsequent desire for in-flight wifi has grown 40 per cent since before the pandemic.

A large majority (77 per cent) said that in-flight wifi is important to them when they travel – up from just 55 per cent in 2018’s survey.

This growth was most pronounced in the Middle East, as 94 per cent and 92 per cent of passengers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, respectively, say wifi is important in the air.

This offers a major opportunity for airlines, as 82 per cent of passengers globally said they would rebook with an airline that offered quality in-flight wifi, with 92 per cent of business travellers and 90 per cent of parents with children under 18 agreeing.

(Just 67 per cent agreed before the pandemic, demonstrating how much more important in-flight wifi has become.)

Niels Steenstrup, president of Inmarsat Aviation, says: “It’s fantastic to see so many travellers confident in taking to the skies again following the pandemic, and is testament to the airline industry’s focus in getting air travel back on track so quickly.

“The fact that the overwhelming majority of passengers now use their own devices onboard – and so many feel wifi is important to them when flying – presents an unmissable opportunity for airlines.

“Not only can in-flight connectivity help airlines attract new customers and keep existing ones happy, but it also opens the door to new revenue generation opportunities for airlines to support the industry’s on-going recovery.

“We’ve been tracking the desire for inflight connectivity for years and can see it shows no signs of slowing down. Reliable wifi is undoubtedly fundamental to an excellent passenger experience.

“Giving passengers the flying experience they want and focusing on providing quality wifi for those who want to work or play while onboard, will be the gift that keeps on giving for passengers and for airlines.”

When it’s available, four in five passengers (79 per cent) are connecting to onboard wifi, but only 5 per cent say they’re able to make the most of this connectivity.

More than half (51 per cent) of passengers said they want more charging ports onboard. (Survey respondents probably mainly travelled in economy because premium seats tend to all have sockets these days.)

What are passengers willing to do to guarantee the best wifi experience? Over a third (38 per cent) said they would watch adverts when connected (this is an option that Virgin Atlantic gives passengers).

Almost a third (30 per cent) said they would actually pay more for unlimited social media usage while flying, while 25 per cent would pay more for unlimited downloads.

Price, however, is something passengers feel strongly about – 47 per cent said paying for wifi would put them off connecting, closely followed by slow connections (45 per cent). Overall, 83 per cent think wifi should be free on long-haul flights.

Globetrender predicts that by 2030, super-fast wifi will be on every airline and almost all will be offering it for free – much in the way that hotels have had to. People will expect it to be a basic essential.