Virgin Australia has officially switched on inflight internet Wi-Fi for customers on its Boeing 777-300ER fleet, declaring itself to be the first Australian airline to offer Wi-Fi on international services.
The fifth and last of its 777-300ERs to have the radome and necessary on-board equipment and cabling installed was VH-VPH, with the work completed in late May at Virgin Australia’s Brisbane maintenance hangar, located on the eastern side of the airfield and directly across from the domestic terminals.
The previous four aircraft, VH-VOZ, VH-VPD, VH-VPE and VH-VPF had their Wi-Fi installation work undertaken in Singapore, with two aircraft completed in November and December and a further two in January and February
Virgin Australia has partnered with Gogo, using the 2Ku dual-antenna technology (one for the forward link and one for the return link) for its inflight connectivity, which uses Optus satellites for domestic and trans-Tasman services and Intelsat and SES for its other international flights.
Virgin Australia has had one 777-300ER conducting trials with passengers travelling between Australia and the Los Angeles.
At the same time, the airline has been conducting private testing behind the scenes on other 777-300ERs aircraft as they were equipped.
Virgin Australia general manager for customer experience and product Tash Tobias said the results of the internal testing and passenger feedback had been fantastic.
“We were flying them sort of in private mode so that we just make sure that everything was working before we allowed our guests to experience the Wi-Fi on board all of the aircraft,” Tobias told Australian Aviation in an interview at Virgin Australia’s Brisbane maintenance hangar on May 16.
“The purpose of doing it that way was really so that we could continually refine the offering until we were comfortable with the service that we provided.
“I flew it the week before last and it was quite amazing how much coverage there is and the speed of the technology right through.”
Virgin Australia had VH-VPD at its Brisbane hangar from May 8 until May 24.
While the level of coverage on the long journey across the Pacific – Virgin Australia’s 777-300ERs operate from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles – depended on the actual flight path taken, Tobias said the coverage was available for the “vast, vast majority of the time”.
Virgin Australia kicked off Wi-Fi rollout in April 2017
Virgin Australia started offering connectivity in April 2017 on its Boeing 737 fleet.
The service started as a free trial on domestic flights on board a single 737-800, which was followed by a roll out of the technology to the rest of the fleet.
On Tuesday, Virgin Australia said the 12 of its 737 fleet would feature inflight internet Wi-Fi by the end of calendar 2018. At December 31, Virgin Australia had 81 737 aircraft, comprising two 737-700s and 79 737-800s.
Finally, Wi-Fi installation would begin on the airline’s six Airbus A330-200s – which are used on flights to Hong Kong and on trans-continental domestic services – in early 2019.
Wi-Fi to help relieve “net lag”
Research commissioned by Virgin Australia and conducted by Pure Profile found 70 per cent of Australians admitted to feeling frustrated because they could not access the internet during a flight.
Further, 65 per cent of respondents said they felt overwhelmed catching up on emails, messages and other unread notifications once they landed.
Virgin Australia has termed this inability to stay connected on flights that leads to feelings of stress and fear of missing out (FOMO) as “net lag”.
University of Sydney cyberpsychologist Dr Andrew Campbell said the not being able to to keep up-to-date with the online world and stay in touch with friends was a “real fear that’s only grown since the introduction of smartphones”.
“Like it or not, staying connected has become an essential part of life for most of us and certainly seems to be where we’re headed as a society,” Dr Campbell said in a statement.
Virgin Australia group executive for airlines Rob Sharp added: “Most of us use our phones on a daily – if not hourly basis – meaning it can be incredibly disruptive to have extended periods of time when you can’t connect with friends, family, colleagues, or what’s going on in the world.”
“We’re proud to be the leader in providing Australians with greater inflight connectivity on international flights,” Sharp said.
Virgin Australia giving passengers free and paid Wi-Fi options
On domestic flights, Virgin Australia is offering a so-called standard Wi-Fi free to all passengers, while those wanting a faster connection – for on board streaming for example – can opt to pay for a high speed service.
There will be no free service on international flights, with packages for one hour or the entire flight available for purchase.
“The complimentary offer is really to take care of this net lag that we’ve been talking about,” Tobias said.
“So our guests will be able to stay in touch, they will be able to use social media, they will be able to use Wi-Fi enabled messaging applications.
“They will be able to do emails, without downloading really large files. They will be able to do a lot of things they want to do to stay in touch.
“But we are charging guests for higher bandwidth activities like steaming content, particularly on domestic flights because we think that not everybody is going to want that but those who do will be able to have the choice.
“That enables us to be able to keep it complimentary for the vast majority of people.”
While Virgin Australia is currently the only Australian airline to offer inflight internet Wi-Fi on international flights, Qantas did trial Wi-Fi for a short time on its Airbus A380 flights between Australia and the United States in 2012. However it was restricted to those in first and business class and the reported take-up was low.
In April 2017, Qantas relaunched an inflight internet Wi-Fi service in partnership with ViaSat and nbn Co.
The airline said in late May 2018 it had expected to have two of its 12 A330-200s which are predominantly used for domestic services and half of its half of its 75 737-800s fitted with Wi-Fi by the end of June.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told reporters on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Sydney on Monday the airline was waiting for the launch of Ka band satellites in 2019 and 2020.
That would allow Qantas to offer Wi-Fi for its international operations some time in 2021.
And across the Tasman, Air New Zealand commenced trials on its Boeing 777-300ER fleet in October 2017. And according to the airline’s website, the 777-200ER fleet will be next to have Wi-Fi hardware installed, followed by the remainder of its international fleet comprising the 787-9s and Airbus A320s.
The New Zealand flag carrier has chosen Inmarsat and its GX for Aviation product, which uses Global Xpress Ka band satellite network.