Insight | How free inflight connectivity has proved a winner during the World Cup


How free inflight connectivity has proved a winner during the World Cup


Airlines such as Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic are offering free streaming and broadband access using GX Aviation.

It’s hard to miss the fact that the much-anticipated Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup™ is underway but what you may not know is that Qatar Airways, as the official airline sponsor, is offering all of its passengers free and uninterrupted live streaming of the matches as they fly.

The new capability for the airline, called World Cup TV, is being streamed to passengers through Sport 24, produced by IMG, and is exclusively available inflight from Panasonic Avionics, using Inmarsat’s GX Aviation seamless global connectivity solution.

A promising kick off

The world’s most prestigious football competition kicked off on Sunday, 20 November with an impressive opening ceremony and the home nation playing Ecuador for a place in the next round. Qatar Airways had been advertising its World Cup TV offering to passengers in the weeks prior, but uptake has now taken off in earnest, with multiple flights regularly boasting more than a quarter of passengers watching matches.

We expect to see those numbers rise as the competition progresses further and the stakes get higher. As demand for inflight connectivity (IFC) grows, the argument for free access gets stronger. It’s easy to see why many assume IFC will be free in the long-term, as there’s a natural comparison  to hotels, cafes and even trains, where Wi-Fi was initially introduced as a charged service but later offered as a complimentary one. People want the same access in the air as they get on the ground, and many want that seamless journey to be free.

Passengers will soon expect it

“What we believe is that connectivity is like water on the aircraft,” said William Huot-Marchand, Inmarsat Aviation’s SVP Inflight Connectivity, during a recent interview with Pax International magazine. “You expect water and in the future, you will expect to have connectivity.”

Our recent Passenger Experience Survey - which polled more than 11,000 people worldwide who have travelled by air in the past 12 months – reinforces Huot-Marchand's opinion, indicating that 97% of passengers currently use their personal devices when flying. On top of that 77% said that inflight Wi-Fi is important to them when they travel – up from just 55% in our first survey in 2018.

Interestingly, that growth was most pronounced in the Middle East, with numbers hitting 94% and 92% of passengers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, respectively stating Wi-Fi was important. This makes Qatar Airways’ investment in World Cup TV even more logical. And of course, there’s the fact that 83% of those surveyed think Wi-Fi should be free on long-haul flights.

If it’s free, they will use it

The England team flew out to Qatar for the World Cup with another of our GX Aviation customers, Virgin Atlantic. During the chartered flight to Doha, all of the players and the wider support team were provided with vouchers enabling them to use Wi-Fi for free throughout their journey. Unsurprisingly, usage was through the roof, with 148 passengers logging on throughout the flight.

The team posted pictures of themselves onboard the aircraft on their Instagram accounts, using our seamless GX Aviation inflight broadband to keep their fans up-to-date, chat with family and stream content. This article features pictures of the England team boarding the Virgin Atlantic flight on their way to Qatar, as well as snaps they took and shared whilst on the flight"

Moving in the direction of free IFC

Of course, offering free inflight broadband is not a new trend. Air New Zealand, another GX Aviation customer, has been offering free Wi-Fi to all of its passengers throughout the duration of its flights for over three years now, which has given the airline the opportunity to pursue ancillary revenues through retail offerings and advertising partnerships.

Spain’s national carrier Iberia, which uses our award-winning European Aviation Network (EAN) inflight broadband, has recently introduced free messaging for its Iberia Plus frequent flyer members and business class passengers. It has seen a threefold increase in Wi-Fi take up rates and some very positive passenger feedback.

With 82% of the airline passengers we surveyed around the world saying they would rebook with an airline that offered quality inflight Wi-Fi, rising to 92% of business travellers, and with 90% of parents with children under 18 agreeing, free Wi-Fi is considered by a growing number of people to be a no-brainer.

Stream the unmissable

As further significant events are planned around the world, we are talking to several customers about offering this kind of streaming. A recent example was British Airways’ sensitivity to the needs of passengers who were travelling during the Queen’s funeral in September this year. Using our EAN network, British Airways was able to provide a free streaming capability to allow passengers to watch the media coverage live in flight.

The perk of catching a once-in-a-lifetime event in the air is undoubtedly an attractive offering from airlines, and one that engenders loyalty, which has got to be a good thing in this post-pandemic market. It’s not just about special events though, it’s about meeting passengers’ growing demand to stay connected and using that connectivity to communicate with passengers in the air to build a relationship.

Underlining our drive to support the industry’s recovery after a tough couple of years, Inmarsat Aviation’s President Niels Steenstrup explained that inflight connectivity not only helps airlines attract new customers and keep existing ones happy, but it also opens the door to new revenue generation opportunities for airlines to support the industry’s ongoing recovery.

“We’ve been tracking the desire for inflight connectivity for years and can see it shows no signs of slowing down,” he said. “Reliable Wi-Fi is undoubtedly fundamental to an excellent passenger experience. Giving passengers the flying experience that they want and focusing on providing quality Wi-Fi for those who want to work or play while onboard, will be the gift that keeps on giving for passengers and for airlines.”

Whether it’s offered free or not, one thing is for sure, the demand for IFC is growing and it presents exciting opportunities for airlines to build valuable relationships with their customers, at a time when the battle for loyalty couldn’t be more important.

Free is the magic number

“Much like hotels, which have been successful in leveraging consumer loyalty through free Wi-Fi, I would expect airlines to follow suit and meet that demand.”