Air New Zealand is giving away free inflight WiFi to all passengers on all WiFi equipped international flights between the 1st December 2018 and 28th February 2019.
WiFi is currently available across most of the airline's Boeing 777 fleet, as well as their recently arrived Airbus A321neo aircraft. You can read more about what aircraft have WiFi fitted, and how to tell if your flight will have WiFi here.
Pricing is normally $9 per hour, $30 for a shorthaul flight to Australia or the Pacific Islands, and $40 for a longhaul flight.
I've used the inflight WiFi on a number of occasions and have had a great experience with brilliant speeds (up to 20Mbps down and 5Mbps up), however I've both read and had numerous reports from people in recent months who have been on flights that have experienced technical issues including large periods of time where the service has been unavailable.
While TravelTalk NZ understands uptake of the paid WiFi service has been good, I can't help but wonder if the service is being offered for free while they work through these issues.
As a network engineer I am curious about the decision to give away the service for free though - if half of the 342 potential passengers on a Boeing 777-300ER decided to use the WiFi it would very likely result in a disappointing end user experience due to saturation of the finite satellite backhaul to the aircraft, along with saturation of the WiFi network which features three access points fitted in the aircraft cabin.
If indeed passengers were disappointed or frustrated when trying out Air New Zealand's inflight WiFi, it does make me wonder if they would then be willing to pay for the service in the future? Most aren't going to understand why such inflight Internet issues would occur, they would just expect it to work.
Flights inbound to New Zealand from North America appear to have suffered disproportionately more issues, which makes me wonder if Air New Zealand are suffering from wing or tail shadow issues due to the location of the Inmarsat GX satellites in orbit. Lufthansa have suffered similar teething issues with their inflight WiFi rollout also using Inmarsat GX.
The signal from the satellite is received on the aircraft by an antenna positioned on top of the aircraft inside a radome (pictured above on a Boeing 777-300ER) and requires line of sight (LoS) between the antenna and the Inmarsat satellite. Wing or tail shadow occurs when the signal from the satellite is impacted by the tail or wing of the aircraft, either blocking this fully or impacting the Fresnel zone due to the location of the aircraft in the sky in relation to the satellite.
Technical challenges aside, the announcement is great news if you're a passenger on an Air New Zealand international flight this Summer!