Wi-Fi Takes off with Travelers

This story was written by CNET's Marguerite Reardon

Wi-Fi Internet access could help airlines win over customers who are looking to stay connected while en route, a recent survey concludes.

According to a study published this week by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance, about 75 percent of frequent business travelers surveyed said they'd choose an airline based on whether the flight has Wi-Fi or not. Half of respondents said they'd even consider moving their reservation by a day to get on a flight that offered Wi-Fi. And more than 70 percent of those surveyed said they'd rather have Wi-Fi access on board a flight than a meal provided by the airline.

Since last year, several airlines have been adding Wi-Fi to their planes. Delta, American Airlines, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, and AirTran are just a few that have already begun to offer the service. Southwest Airlines announced earlier this month that it plans to offer Wi-Fi on its planes starting in the first quarter of next year.

Typically, these services cost about $12 or $13 per flight. The survey did not take into account the cost of the service. But given the popularity of Wi-Fi hotspots in airports and in various restaurants and cafes, the price doesn't appear to be a major barrier.

The survey included 480 frequent business travelers, of whom 150 had used in-flight Wi-Fi in early August. About 95 percent of respondents said Wi-Fi access on a flight would make them more productive. And about half of those responding said they had often taken red-eye flights so they could be reached during business hours.

But the Wi-Fi Alliance emphasized that in-flight Wi-Fi is not just for business travelers. Other travelers also use the service. About 72 percent of those surveyed say they use it to check personal e-mail. About 49 percent say they use the in-flight Wi-Fi to surf the Web. And about 35 percent use it to stream video or music.

By Marguerite Reardon