The Real Reason More People Don’t Use Wi-Fi on Flights

The airlines are puzzled about why less than 10% of people who could use Wi-Fi on a flight actually choose to do so.  See this article for interesting background.

Explanations offered range from ‘it is too expensive’ to ‘I want some quiet personal time’.  Neither answer is convincing.  Many of us think nothing about spending $10 to access Wi-Fi for an hour or two while waiting at the airport, and so from a cost point of view, paying $5 or more to access Wi-Fi on a flight is a great value.

And, similarly, the suggestion that people want to be disconnected and enjoying quiet personal time on a flight is not very convincing either.  Why would the same people who are desperately keen to be connected on the ground suddenly transition to wanting to be isolated on a long flight that is otherwise dreary and boring?  Why would the same people who leave their Blackberry or other smart phone on until the last possible minute, and then turn it on the instant the plane has landed again, wish to remain out of touch for the hours of the flight?

There are two much more valid reasons which the airlines choose to ignore.  Firstly – newsflash – if you use your computer, you’re doing so in a semi-public environment.  Especially if you have an aisle seat, not only can the other people in your block of seats see your screen, but so too can people on the other side of the aisle, and going back several rows, plus all the people walking up and down the aisle.  That limits the sort of work we want to do in a public setting.

And the second reason?  Look at the image supplied by Virgin America for the linked article and copied here. 

Those people look a bit cramped and crowded, don’t you think?  And they’re not sitting in a regular coach class seat!

It is just not comfortable or convenient to try and use a full size laptop in a coach class seat, and if the person in the seat in front of you chooses to recline their seat, then all bets are off – there’s no way you can have your laptop open and the screen at a sensible angle.

Even if there’s enough space in front of you, there’s seldom enough width unless you’ve an empty seat next to you.

There is one possible solution for the truly dedicated road warrior.  Buy a netbook type computer. This is much smaller than a regular laptop and fit much more conveniently into the tight space in a coach class seat.

For example, my medium size Dell laptop measures 13″ wide and 9.5″ deep – it has a 14″ screen, many laptops with 15″ – 17″ screens are much larger.  By comparison, my medium size netbook measures 11″ wide and 7.75″ deep.  It has an 11.5″ screen, some netbooks with, eg, 10″ screens, are even smaller.  I can usually use my netbook on flights, but can only use my laptop if in first class.

And as for the privacy issue, see our review of the 3M computer screen privacy shields for a way of reducing the amount of data that other people can see on your screen.

4 thoughts on “The Real Reason More People Don’t Use Wi-Fi on Flights”

  1. I know people whose companies have strict policies against not only using a laptop on an airplane, but doing any sort of work on a plane or any other kind of public space (airport gate, commuter bus or rail, etc.). The belief is that in the era of camera phones, very small digital cameras and the like, it would be easy for someone to snap a picture of a computer screen or papers with sensitive information.

  2. Bob Duchatkiewicz

    I agree with the space isssue, even with a netbook. As a long suffering Delta & US Airways Frequent Survivor I find space to more of a premium. Even though I have been fortunate to have First Class seats on most trips I find that the ever wider use of smaller RJs is making a joke out of all service classes!
    It hasn’t been a problem for me but I can see that the lack of privacy can be a real problem.

  3. For a couple months around 12/09, Virgin America offered free wi-fi. It would be interesting to know how many people signed on during that free period.

  4. Pingback: Miscellaneous Roundup week ending 9 July 2010 » The Travel Insider

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