(Clarifies and corrects previous post to stress that some details of Icelandair’s arrangement with Row 44 are confidential.)
Icelandair will begin offering Wi-Fi on its Boeing 757 flights between North America and Europe next summer, now that a deal is in place with Ku-band connectivity provider Row 44.
“It’s time,” Birkir Holm Gudnason, the airline CEO said of the airline’s decision, while acknowledging that he is not a trail blazer in this regard. “I believe in 2015 or 2016, most of the airlines will have Wi-Fi on board.”
Many of the business details with Row 44 have not been worked out or are confidential. For example Gudnason would not say whether the airline will pay outright for the necessary equipment and installation and keep all of the proceeds or share revenue with Row 44. “We are still working with them on that,” Gudnason told me during an interview in his office last week in Reykjavik. “We have both options but we haven’t decided.”
Iceland’s far north location presents technological challenges on certain routes, not unlike those facing Canada’s WestJet. Without the ability to offer seamless connectivity on all routes, a spokesman for WestJet told me in August that the airline has opted not to offer internet at this time.
Icelandair, by contrast, admits there may be an hour or two of interrupted service on flights from two cities; Vancouver and Seattle, but it is optimistic those difficulties will be worked out. “It is something with the arctic area,There are technical issues to be resolved in these arctic areas” that Row 44 is working on Gudnason explained.
The airline boss said that no announcements have been made about whether Wi-Fi will be free to all passengers while the airline evaluates the service. “Basically we want to test it for three or six months and have it open before we decide on a charging policy. if we are going to charge, if we are going to revenue share and all that. We want to see how it works and if it is functioning well.”
In the long term, however Gudnason says it is inevitable that some Icelandair passengers will have to pay, “because you almost have to pay for it to get the quality good, but it hasn’t been finalised”.
During the peak travel season, Icelandair operates 18 Boeing 757s and its growing route network and increasing passenger numbers prompted the airline to order sixteen five Boeing 737 Maxs that will begin to arrive in 2018.
Once winter arrives, however, Icelandair takes planes out of service for heavy maintenance, usually two at a time. Installation of the Wi-Fi equipment has already begun and will continue will begin on these airplanes this winter. If the entire fleet is not equipped for Wi-Fi in 2014, it will be complete by the following year, Gudnason said.
Even before the first log-on screen appears on a passenger’s laptop, however, Icelandair executives are already thinking about how they will maximise the new connectivity to impact the passenger experience. Because once the decision is made to put internet on board, broader inflight entertainment opportunities and enhanced onboard retail sales are expected to follow.
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(Photo above and main courtesy of AirTeamImages.)