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14/02/2009 – Southwest’s LUV Brings Broadband To The Flying Masses
I have been holding onto this entry involving Southwest Airlines for the past few days, waiting for Valentine’s Day. Why Valentine’s Day? Because Southwest Airline’s ‘home’ is not only Dallas’ Love Field, but also the airline’s stock symbol (NYSE) is “LUV.”
On the 10th of February Southwest Airlines introduced wireless internet, provided by Row 44, on-board one of its Boeing 737-7H4s. Southwest Airlines has been long since been a popular airline with not only leisure flyers, but also business flyers. For many years Southwest Airlines has used its simple fare structure as an attractive option for business flyers, and began gaining much of its popularity with Texas based business flyers by offering free liquor on certain routes at the start of its flying days.
The introduction of in-flight broadband within Southwest’s service is not a surprise; the airline has been discussing this concept for quite sometime. Southwest, while not the first to offer in-flight broadband, coming in behind American Airlines and Delta Airlines, does offer an interesting content partnership with Yahoo. Yahoo’s content for Southwest Airlines is unique in that includes a Southwest Airlines dedicated homepage containing a flight-tracker for passengers to track their flight progress while in-flight, points of interest on the ground as the flight passes over them, and destination information for each specific flight.
An interesting comparison between American Airlines’ in-flight WiFi and Southwest Airlines’ WiFi is that American Airlines flies international routes and it chose a ground-based broadband provider, while Southwest Airlines does not fly internationally and they chose a satellite based provider.
Overall while I think Southwest Airlines’ in-flight broadband will be a success as they roll it out throughout the fleet, but I do see some drawbacks. Southwest Airlines offers no in-seat power on any of its Boeing 737 aircraft. While some laptops have decent battery life, most have a fairly limited battery life. The limitations of laptop batteries would mean that the effective use of this new service would be limited to flights approximately two hours in length of shorter.
Yes there are many laptops with a longer battery life, but the majority of laptops sold today, which are ‘consumer grade’ laptops do not offer a significant battery life. This limitation, with the inability to charge or power a laptop in flight, means a reduced possibility of customers paying for the service on longer flights, which is when being able to use in-flight broadband, would be ideal.
Many flyers would be more likely to pay for the service, when it switches to a paid service, on a flight more than 3hrs, rather than a shorter flight of 2.5hrs or less. This business model is why many US airlines shunned the in-flight wireless service when Boeing introduced it, through the now defunct Boeing Connexion service back in 2004. While the US airlines saw a decline in revenue following 9/11/01, a significant factor in chosing to not install in-flight WiFi was because their research showed minimal interest for short-haul flights and the costs associated with adding in-seat power in addition to the wifi equipment. In fact no US airlines installed Boeing Connexion, the service was primarily installed on European and Asian carriers (I enjoyed using the service while flying on Lufthansa and being able to transmit photos back to employer at the time while flying home).
While Delta initially installed its in-flight WiFi on aircraft that do not offer in-seat power, they are installing the service fleet-wide and many aircraft do offer in-seat power. American Airlines offers in-seat power on all aircraft, although not all rows currently offer the power outlets. If passengers cannot sustain the ability to keep their laptop charged will they be willing to pay a flat fee for wireless internet?
Personally, I look forward to seeing in-flight broadband in action on Southwest Airlines. I have enjoyed the airline for many years, as an experienced Southwest flyer I can see why they are popular with many flyers and this service, with or without in-seat power, is one more option that I am sure will increase their popularity with business travellers. However I don’t know if I’d want to pay for 5 hours of wifi on the Providence (PVD) – Las Vegas (LAS) route if my laptop battery will only last 2 hours of that flight.
…It is nice to be able to share Southwest’s new in-flight ‘LUV’ on Valentine’s Day!
Below is a sample image of the Southwest Airlines-Yahoo! in-flight homepage.