Australia will finally get inflight WiFi on domestic flights

Like not or not, inflight WiFi has firmly taken wing on domestic Australian flights. Qantas and Virgin Australia have both passed the halfway mark in adding satellite Internet to their Boeing 737 jets – those nimble single-aisle aircraft which are the workhorse of each airline.

That means there's now a 50/50 chance that your next Boeing 737 flight will let you to stay connected above the clouds, and with each passing month more jets will be sporting sky-high WiFi.

I don't see this as a bad thing. Nobody is going to force you to use the technology. As a busy business traveller, I appreciate the option to jump online and work during the flight, especially on 4-5 hour transcontinental flights between the east and west coasts.

That of course has been the missing link, at least where the larger Airbus A330s are concerned. But those bigger birds are catching up.

Unwired up

Qantas says that five of its Airbus A330s will run WiFi by the end of the March, and five more by year's end – by which time all of the red-tailed Boeing 737s will also have been upgraded.

The airline says it's committed to retaining the current model of inflight WiFi being free as well as fast. And at around 10-15Mbps it's very fast – as quick as many home broadband connections, and more than enough enough for streaming Netflix or Stan video if you're so inclined.

Virgin Australia will also begin adding WiFi to its Airbus A330s aircraft from February, with two key differences.

Firstly, two of Virgin's six A330s fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong. This gives Virgin an edge against Qantas, which doesn't plan to adopt international WiFi until a new constellation of broadband satellites is in place around 2021.

Virgin already offers Internet on its flights to New Zealand and Los Angeles, although unlike the domestic Qantas service it's not free: passengers pay $7 per hour on trans-Tasman flights and $9 per hour to the USA, although the 'entire flight passes' of $13 and $20 respectively unlock the best value.


Single use only

Virgin is also looking at introducing a single pass which could cover several international WiFi flights so that passengers don't need to pay on a per-flight basis.

This could be very appealing for travellers who regularly hop across the Tasman. Virgin's US-based technology partner Gogo already offers a US$50 pass which can be used on any domestic Alaska Airlines, American Airlines or Delta Air Lines flights for an entire month.

International airlines are bringing more WiFi-equipped jets to Australia, too. The older Airbus A330s of Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are steadily being related by each airline's Airbus A350s, which feature the latest WiFi technology.

Again, this is a smart way to be more productive on those 8-10 hour flights. For example, I used to arrive at the lounge with a list of things to do online before I stepped onto the plane – this was often research for articles to write en route, or emails to send.

Making good time

Inflight Internet makes my lounge time more enjoyable because I can relax and leave some of that preflight work to be done on the flight itself. Some tasks still need the raw speed of a fast lounge connection – downloading or uploading large files is an obvious example – but it's nice not having to cram all my online work into those few hours in the lounge.

Likewise, by using inflight Internet during the flight, when I arrive into Singapore or Hong Kong I'm already on top of my inbox and my schedule. I'll still switch on global roaming once I land, in order to tackle any last-minute emails or calls on the way from the airport to the hotel.

The end result? Once I've checked into the hotel, I don't have to spend hours playing catch-up and trying to juggle timezones. My work is done, and the evening is mine. That's a pretty good way to start any business trip.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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Are you a fan of the inflight WiFi or prefer the days of no contact? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.