By Cailey Rizzo
March 31, 2019
AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Air New Zealand has become the latest airline to offer free, unlimited Wi-Fi to passengers onboard their aircraft.

As airlines start to “unbundle” features like seat selection and free checked bags, more are adding free Wi-Fi — suggesting that staying connected is a non-negotiable for today’s travelers.

There are several different approaches to bringing Wi-Fi to passengers. Already, JetBlue offers free Wi-Fi for passengers. Delta’s CEO made an announcement this month that the airline plans to offer free unlimited Wi-Fi to passengers within the next year or two. Southwest, Alaska and Delta already offer free messaging (on apps like iMessage, Whatsapp and Viber) via Wi-Fi, but passengers must pay for browsing capabilities.

Other airlines like Qatar Airways and Philippine Airlines offer free Wi-Fi, but it can be limited by time or data usage. Other airlines like Turkish and Scandinavian Airlines keep free Wi-Fi reserved as a perk for frequent fliers.

After a three-month test of free Wi-Fi, Air New Zealand decided to expand the experiment. However, those flying with the airline may not have immediate free Wi-Fi access. It will be available on the airline’s new Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft. But Air New Zealand said it could take through the rest of the year to install free Wi-Fi capabilities on its older aircraft.

The switch to free Wi-Fi reflects a switch in an airline’s business strategy. Charging for Wi-Fi access means that airlines consider this service an add-on, that business travelers will pay any price for (likely because they are not footing the bill). But when an airline offers Wi-Fi for free, that means that consider it a “differentiator,” or something that will draw passengers to choose their service rather than a rival airline’s. And, with today’s ever-connected travelers, it seems to be a winning strategy.

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