Airline Passengers Not So Keen on Wi-Fi in the Sky

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Wi-Fi on long flights seems like a no-brainer, but travelers are apparently sticking to other tried-and-true boredom killers in the air — like celebrity magazines and booze. According to SplatF, of the 355 million people who have flown on planes equipped with Gogo’s inflight Wi-Fi since 2008, only 15 million sessions have been logged, which means that only 4% of people are going online.

To put that in perspective, SplatF’s Dan Frommer estimates that only two to 10 people on average pay for online access during each Wi-Fi-enabled flight. So why aren’t people jumping at an opportunity to cruise Facebook or watch YouTube while confined to their seats?

(GRAPHIC: Where Extra Airline Fees Come From)

As Matthew Yglesias over at Slate notes, the quality of inflight Wi-Fi is questionable at best. I’ve only signed on once and my personal experience was that the things I most wanted to do on a long, cross-country flight — stream movies on Netflix, listen to music on Pandora or Spotify — were the things that Gogo’s Wi-Fi couldn’t really handle, at least not consistently over five or six hours.

Not to mention the last thing I want to do after paying to get my bag checked and spending $9 on a subpar inflight meal is drop an additional $12.95 for a couple hours of Internet service. While frequent fliers might go for the $34.95 traveler pass, the casual traveler is probably reluctant to spend $9.95 on 1.5 to three hours of Internet, especially when they can watch TV for free on many flights.

Gogo, which just filed to go public, makes up 85% of the inflight Wi-Fi business, providing 1,323 planes with service. While only a small percentage of airline passengers sign on to Gogo’s Wi-Fi, there’s good news — 84% of commercial planes in North America are still without Internet service, meaning there’s a huge untapped market out there just waiting to get wired.

MORE: The Hollywood Starlet Who Made Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Possible