British Airways is slowly getting connected, but it remains the luck of scheduling that will decide if customers can get online

British Airways (BA) entered into a partnership with payments technology specialist, Visa, late last year to offer its customers an hour’s free web browsing onboard its connected aircraft for “a limited time”, but only a small number of passengers were able to take advantage of the special offer as the UK carrier continues the slow rollout of Wi-Fi connectivity across its long haul fleet. The special limited time sponsorship scheme was though to initially run until the end of Jan-2018, but is still being advertised on the BA website.

The airline plans to fit 118 of its long haul aircraft with GoGo-enabled 2Ku satellite technology second generation in-air Wi-Fi connectivity over the next two years. The first aircraft was rolled-out with the installed hardware in Jan-2017, but currently only three or four Boeing 747-400s are understood to be online with the ‘.air’ service. BA is also introducing Wi-Fi across its short haul fleet from the middle of this year, with the aim of having 90% of its total fleet connected by 2019.

BA is offering a choice of two online options that allows customers are able to use their own devices to browse the internet, access email and check social media. In addition, they will have the ability to stream video content from popular sites such as Netflix and YouTube.

The browse option (initially known as Simply Connect) that supports basic web browsing, email and instant messaging and a faster Stream option (initially called Connect Plus) that provides a faster connection speed supporting video streaming services. Customers can choose whether they connect for one hour, four hours or the full flight with costs from GBP4.99 and GBP7.99 for the two offerings and rise to GBP14.99 and GBP23.99.

“Staying connected is important to our customers who want to be able to work, browse and stream in the air,” explains Carolina Martinoli, director of brand and customer experience at BA. If passengers are lucky enough to be onboard one of the connected aircraft, they are able to make use of the service from approximately ten minutes after take-off when the aircraft has passed 10,000 feet.

Like ground hotspots, the performance of ‘.air’ will be impacted by the number of online users. BA says the available bandwidth will be shared by all ‘.air’ users on board, which means that the actual speed depends on the number of users at any given time. With the ‘Browse’ package it endeavours to provide an experience of “no less than approximately 250Kbps”, which should be suitable for browsing the web, checking emails etc. On the ‘Stream’ package it provides an experience “of no less than approximately 1Mbps” which is sufficient to stream material from content providers.

As there is no hardware to support GSM services onboard passengers will not be able to make a phone call through their network providers. For privacy protection, VoIP calls through services such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp will also be unavailable, explains the airline, which also requests passengers turn phones to vibrate or silent mode to respect other customers.

The 747-400s actioned for ‘.air’ usage are reported to be G-CIVR, G-CIVS, G-CIVV and G-CIVX. According to the Flightradar24 tracking app, these aircraft have this week been mainly deployed on trans-Atlantic flights to the United States of America (USA) from London Heathrow, comprising routes to Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but also to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Lagos, Nigeria.