Step aboard a low-cost airline and the amenities can be jarringly basic. To keep costs low, free snacks don’t exist and in-flight entertainment is no more than a magazine, half of which is full of advertisements.
How do you distract passengers from this painful minimalism? Well Wi-Fi, of course, a lesson learned by a small but growing group of no-frills carriers. For SpiceJet, it’s part of a bigger strategy to now grab market share from full-service airlines. The low-cost carrier will be the first in India to offer onboard wifi when it is cleared by the government- And it will not charge its flyers for it. Instead, it will charge the advertisers whose will brand their companies through pop-up ads.
“We think there is a business model in providing wifi services free to passengers and earn money from advertisers instead of that, this will be one differentiating feature of the airline,” SpiceJet CMD Ajay Singh said.
SpiceJet will join the club of a handful of carriers providing inflight wifi for free. Among global carriers, JetBlue, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines provide wifi as free. Normally, airlines charge a fee for providing the service.
To be clear, India’s regulatory policy continues to freeze out inflight internet in the country. Even international aircraft entering Indian airspace must switch off their systems. However, in May this year, Telecom Commission - the highest policy-making body of the Department of Telecommunication had approved the proposal for allowing internet inside flights. Singh said that he expects the final approval to come by November. “We expect it to be allowed from November and we are ready to be the first airline in India to offer the service,” he said.
SpiceJet has tied up with Immarsat -- a mobile satellite service communication provider to equip its 737 Max aircraft with Satcom (Satellite Communication) antennas which will enable its aircraft to provide onboard internet service.
The wifi will be available in SpiceJet’s new Boeing 737 Max, the first of which the airline inducted today. The airline which has 200 such aircraft on order will induct nine more by the end of 2018. SpiceJet’s decision to provide free WiFi will free the passengers from having to enter a credit card, password, and other information on what’s normally a slow connection up there in the air.
SpiceJet’s strategy to offer free inflight wifi is in tandem with its strategy to blur the lines between low-cost and full-service airlines. In the past few months, the airline has launched onboard entertainment, has revamped its loyalty programme. It will also retrofit its aircraft with USB charging points.
“In India, you cannot define a low-cost airline by the service provided. We are low-cost carriers because our cost of operations is low. If we can use that savings from the cost to better customer experience, it obviously works in our favour,” Singh said.
The free wifi, says a SpiceJet executive, is one more step in that direction.
“On competing airlines, even passengers who don’t mind the cost of WiFi, are deterred by the clunkiness of the payment process: the need to turn over credit card date and other personal information, keystroke by keystroke, in a public environment, and then having to repeat that effort on every subsequent flight, as if you’ve never flown that airline before. This obviously will be one of our branding points,” the airline executive said.