Spirit Airlines does not currently offer Wi-Fi onboard any of their aircraft.
“We are looking at it,” Spirit CEO Robert Fornaro told Runway Girl Network in March 2017. “There’s a good chance as we enter 2018 we’ll be moving in the direction of streaming and Wi-Fi.” The statement reflects a marked contrast to Fornaro’s predecessor, Ben Baldanza, who said in a 2014 Reddit AMA, “We will offer Wi-Fi if, and only if, we can do it without having to raise our fares to cover the costs.”
What’s happened since 2014? “The economics of these things are changing,” Fornaro said. Most low-cost carriers in the United States—including JetBlue and Allegiant—offer Wi-Fi: Spirit, along with Frontier Airlines, is one of the last holdouts.
But as a carrier famous for its commitment to ultra-economical service, Spirit keeps a close eye on the bottom line. And Wi-Fi remains an expensive perk.
Why Wi-Fi Costs so Much
Updating a fleet of planes, whether you are changing the carpet or installing new hardware, is going to cost something. Wi-Fi is no different. From technological components to labor costs, Wi-Fi installation and maintenance costs are an upfront investment for any airline.
The bigger (and more long-term) issue, however, has to do with aerodynamics. Whether an airplane uses air-to-ground, ku-band, or ka-band systems to provide passengers with Wi-Fi, all three types use antennas. Wi-Fi antennas create drag, slowing down planes equipped with them (even if incrementally), and ultimately costing more in fuel. Airlines combat this with radomes (a portmanteau of radar and dome), a special casing that fits over the external antenna to reduce drag.
Equipment manufacturers are also working to reduce the size of antennas. One company, Kymeta, has been working with Honeywell (who makes aerospace components) and Inmarsat (a satellite company) to create a flat antenna, which would neatly solve the problem of drag, since 2015.
As both inflight Wi-Fi technology and Spirit Airlines evolve, you may be streaming video onboard a Spirit flight someday.