Wi-Fi draws air travelers

Business travelers overwhelmingly value Wi-Fi service over meals or free movies on airplanes, says a survey.

The airline industry may have an antidote for cramped seats, non-existent meal service, and baggage charges: Wi-Fi access. At least that's a conclusion that can be drawn from a survey of business passengers who have said in-flight Wi-Fi is the "best thing airlines have done" in the last three years.

The Wi-Fi Alliance reported Tuesday that its survey of 480 frequent business travelers 18 and over found travelers overwhelmingly valued Wi-Fi service more than meal service or free movies. Moreover, 76% of the respondents interviewed by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance said they would choose an airline based on Wi-Fi availability.

"Business and leisure travelers have long relied on Wi-Fi's wide availability around the world to stay connected, and that is becoming an expectation in the sky as well," said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, in a statement. "Numerous airlines (are) offering in-flight Wi-Fi to passengers, and expect Wi-Fi will soon be as commonplace in planes as it is today in homes, businesses, and public areas."

Travelers appear to be getting their wish as most U.S. domestic airlines are installing Wi-Fi. AirTran and Virgin Atlantic have outfitted their entire fleets with the wireless service and Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are in the process of installing Wi-Fi service on most of their larger aircraft. Those airlines use Aircell's Gogo service, which is based on a ground-based network of stations.

Southwest Airlines and Alaska Air are outfitting their planes with a satellite-based service provided by Row 44.

The survey found that Wi-Fi was so important to many business travelers that 55% of the respondents said they would shift their flight by a day to get Wi-Fi service. Slightly more than 70% said they would chose a flight with Wi-Fi over one that provided meal service.

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