Social skies – travellers want to stay online in the air

December 5, 2013 7:45 am

Three quarters of air passengers consider in-flight connectivity ‘vital’

Middle Eastern travellers expect to stay online at 30,000 feet with fast and consistent in-flight wireless connectivity, according to a new survey released by Honeywell Aerospace. The research conducted online surveyed more than 1,300 adults across the region and reveals that passengers’ online requirements are similar in the sky to that at home, indicating a shift towards always being connected.

The Middle East region, especially those countries with hub international airports such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are quickly becoming a growing centre for regional and international travel and has led the way in the early adoption of existing technologies for connectivity. While WiFi is still a flourishing amenity on many flights, the survey also revealed that 76 per cent of respondents view access to in-flight connectivity as a vital or important service for business or leisure use. Middle Eastern passengers are choosing to spend their in-flight hours reading business and leisure emails, accessing social networks and watching television rather than sleeping.

More than half of respondents want to access WiFi for business reasons, and the high number of overall respondents rating WiFi as important or vital indicates that passengers may select an airline based on the availability of in-flight connectivity. The survey results point toward the continued emergence of the region as a destination to conduct business. The interest in such a service also suggests that passengers are focused on making time spent in the cabin as productive and efficient as possible.

“The Middle East region’s aerospace industry is experiencing rapid expansion, and technology and innovation is vital for meeting passenger demand. With people wanting to stay online when flying and with faster connectivity on personal devices, we are seeing a growing trend toward the cabin always being connected,” says Aileen McDowall, vice-president of Air Transport and Regional, EMEAI, Honeywell Aerospace. “Our survey results show that passengers may take the availability of in-flight broadband into account when selecting an airline, and indicate that cabin connectivity could be a major service differentiator and value-added revenue stream for the region’s airlines in the coming years.”

Sky-high productivity

Many passengers are willing to forego certain in-flight comforts in exchange for on-board WiFi, so they can participate in such activities. Survey results conclude that:

  • There are fewer passengers in the UAE who have accessed WiFi in-flight for both business and pleasure (27 per cent) compared with Saudi Arabia (53 per cent). However, a higher percentage (44 per cent) among UAE respondents use the internet for leisure only
  • For respondents that indicated in-flight connectivity was vital or important, approximately two in three use WiFi to communicate with family and friends or to work, and one in four access entertainment online
  • Passengers are willing to forego traditional amenities for access to in-flight WiFi. More than a third of respondents (35 per cent) would consider giving up a preferred window or aisle seat, and nearly a quarter (22 per cent) say they would forfeit an in-flight beverage service

Honeywell plans to deliver global high-speed in-flight connectivity to passengers by enabling airlines and airplane manufacturers to access Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band satellite constellation. By early 2015, passengers can expect to shop, access email, connect with friends on social networking sites and enjoy live streaming for entertainment and more, and will be able to do so with a consistent connection across oceans and regions.