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Which are the world’s most tech-friendly long-haul airlines? You may be surprised

Fast Wi-fi, live TV, comprehensive in-flight entertainment – a study rated the top 50 airlines in the 2018 SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Skytrax winner Singapore Airlines only made 14th place

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 6:15am

Fly with the world's best airlines and you are more likely to get fast Wi-fi among the clouds, right? It turns out that some budget and low ranked long-haul airlines are among the most tech friendly of all, according to new research released by Southeast Asia travel booking platform, Traveloka.

The study focused on the facilities of the world’s top 50 airlines according to the 2018 SkyTrax World Airline Awards, that operate long-haul (six and more hours) flights.

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First place in the ranking goes to Qatar Airways, chiefly for its Super Wi-fi service that launched earlier this year. It gives passengers speeds of up to 50Mbps. It costs US$10 for unlimited usage per flight, though all passengers get an hour for free.

Emirates grabbed second place in the ranking. It gives each passenger 20MB of free Wi-fi, which must be used within two hours. A further 150MB of data costs US$6.99 for most passengers or 500MB for US$10.99.

A surprise third place went to Delta Air Lines, which reached only 37th in the SkyTrax World Airline Awards 2018. Key factors include its free mobile messaging via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, and all-day Wi-fi passes from US$16.

British Airways ranked fourth; the airline sells on-board Wi-fi on some of its routes from £4.99 (US$6.50), with one upgrade package offering Netflix streaming. It expects to have 90 per cent of its aircraft connected by 2019.

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Although the top four places are all taken by top-tier long-haul airlines, budget airline JetBlue Airways snatched fifth place from Cathay Pacific. New York-based low-cost airline JetBlue Airways has seat-back screens on all flights longer than two hours and has also started offering passengers on domestic US routes web access via its Fly-Fi system. The latter even enables free streaming video from Amazon Video.

“It’s not unreasonable to assume the airlines with the best reputation or most expensive seats will offer the best in-flight entertainment and Wi-fi, but our research proves this isn’t always the case,” says Caesar Indra, senior vice-president of business development at Traveloka. “Some budget-friendly carriers are going above and beyond to guarantee their customers reliable connectivity.”

New connectivity options are part of a drive among airlines to get one up on their rivals, catering to business travellers who want a seamless ‘office in the sky’. However, Traveloka’s research concentrated only on facilities in economy class, where browsing the internet, checking social media and streaming videos are now becoming possible, and in some cases for free.

A surprise omission from the top 10 is Singapore Airlines, which – despite coming first in the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2018 – ranked 14th in the survey. Singapore Airlines gives free, but limited Wi-fi to first class (100MB) and PPS Club Members/business class (30MB) passengers.

Inmarsat published an in-flight connectivity survey in August 2018, using responses of more than 9,300 passengers from 32 countries, that claimed that in-flight Wi-fi is driving airline loyalty among passengers. In the report, passengers ranked in-flight Wi-fi as the fourth most important factor that they consider when choosing an airline, behind airline reputation, free checked baggage and extra legroom.

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Traveloka’s criteria weren’t all about Wi-fi and connectivity, however; each of the top five airlines on its list has revamped or comprehensive in-flight entertainment and seat-back screens, which many airlines are abandoning. A relatively new development is in-flight live TV, with major airlines now offering access to the likes of CNN International, CNBC, Euronews, BBC World News, NHK World Premium and Sport24.

Both live TV and faster Wi-fi are products of new High-throughput satellite (HTS) networks, with both Qatar Airways’ and Emirates’ services provided by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation technology. For now, it is the only global HTS network.

“Across the board, we’re seeing airlines striving to gain a competitive edge by making improvements to their tech offerings,” says Indra.