Plush seats and gourmet meals are all very well, but when it comes to jetting around the world, many of us have just three questions: Is there Wi-Fi? Where can I plug this in? And what movies have you got?
A new travel report by Southeast Asian technology company Traveloka on the World’s Most Tech-Friendly Airlines helps find the answers.
Traveloka has analyzed the top 50 airlines from the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2018 – the industry’s creme de la creme – and compared them in terms of Wi-Fi speed and cost, power outlet availability, in-flight entertainment and access to text messaging and phone calls.
Qatar Airways, Qatar’s flag carrier and the No. 2 airline in the world according to Skytrax, tops the Traveloka list.
“Staying connected is a key part of traveling,” said Caesar Indra, senior vice president of business development at Traveloka, in a statement.
“For many of us, hours spent in the sky without an Internet connection can feel like losing a limb.”
Qatar responded to consumer demand by launching its “Super Wi-Fi” service earlier this year, with speeds that can top 50 Mbps (although average speeds are still around 8Mbps, according to Traveloka’s report). Passengers are offered their first hour of high-speed broadband access for free, but can purchase unlimited usage for the rest of the flight for $10.
Emirates, another Middle Eastern airline, earns second place thanks to excellent in-flight entertainment package, which includes 3,500 channels of movies, TV shows, music and games, including live TV from CNN International, CNBC, BBC World News and Sport24.
Emirates also provides 20MB of free Wi-Fi to be used within two hours.
Strong US performance
While it trails way down at No.37 in the World’s Best Airline rankings, Delta Airlines shoots all the way to third place when it comes to its tech-friendly ranking. The US airline scores highly in connectivity, offering free mobile messaging via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, as well as all-day Wi-Fi passes from $16. The airline recently rolled out new seat-back screens as well – something many airlines are now removing.
UK flag carrier British Airways is in fourth place and comes out on top overall when it comes to WiFi speeds, averaging 20Mbps.
Another US airline to rank surprisingly high, budget carrier JetBlue Airways comes in at No.5. It offers newly released movies and TV channels such as CNN, Fox and ESPN via seat-back screens on all flights longer than two hours.
Customers also get free access to the Internet and free streaming via Amazon Video.
Traveloka analyzed the top 50 airlines that operate long-haul flights.
Information on the relevant facilities was gathered primarily from the airlines’ official websites, as well as websites such as AirlinesWiFi and SeatGuru, and publications such as LA Times and Australian Business Traveller, among others.
Facilities listed against each airline represent the facilities available in economy class on at least one type of aircraft in use by the airline, and were correct as of June 2018. WiFi cost is based on pricing per hour of internet access. Where WiFi pricing was based on the amount of data used, it was converted into pricing per hour based on the average hourly data consumption of web browsing, according to WhistleOut.
Winners and losers
Singapore Airlines was named the world’s best airline in Skytrax’s 2018 list, but only ranked 14th in Traveloka’s list, due to relatively slow, expensive Wi-Fi (1.17Mbps at a cost of $8.80) and a lack of Live TV and ability to make phone calls.
Likewise, ANA All Nippon Airways was No.3 on the Skytrax list but trails at No. 29 on the Traveloka ranking, due to even poorer Wi-Fi than Singapore Airlines (0.56Mbps at a cost of $9.43) and no Live TV, text messaging or phone calls.
Of the 50 airlines included in the report, 36 were found by Traveloka to offer Wi-Fi. Like JetBlue Airways, Hong Kong Airlines and China Southern provide the service for free.
All 50 airlines provided either in-seat power or USB ports, with most providing both. Notable exceptions include Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, which don’t have in-seat power, while Hong Kong Airlines and Air New Zealand don’t have USB ports.
The best-connected airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which are the only five to provide Live TV as well as the ability to make phone calls and send text messages.
Says Indra, “Across the board, we’re seeing airlines striving to gain a competitive edge by making improvements to their tech offerings. From Qatar Airlines’ ‘Super Wi-Fi,’ which was launched earlier this year, to Delta’s free mobile messaging perks, we hope to continue to see more of the same in the coming months and years.”
The most tech-friendly airlines for 2018:
1. Qatar Airways (92.3)
2. Emirates (88.4)
3. Delta Air Lines (85.7)
4. British Airways (84.9)
5. JetBlue Airways (82.4)
6. Cathay Pacific (82.0)
7. Alaska Airlines (80.1)
8. Turkish Airlines (79.6)
9. Etihad Airways (78.6)
10. Eva Air (77.4)
11. Oman Air (77.4)
12. Lufthansa (75.7)
13. Virgin Atlantic (72.1)
14. Singapore Airlines (72.0)
15. Air Canada (71.9)
16. Saudi Arabian Airlines (70.6)
17. Finnair (68.9)
18. Aer Lingus (68.6)
19. Hong Kong Airlines (65.1)
20. Malaysia Airlines (65.0)
21. China Southern (62.4)
22. Virgin Australia (61.1)
23. Austrian (59.9)
24. Air New Zealand (59.7)
25. Southwest Airlines (59.3)
This article was updated to reflect the news that Hainan Airlines introduced Wi-Fi on its flights in May 2018.