Virgin Australia appears to be weighing up how much damage the rollout of free wi-fi on Qantas domestic flights will cause as the battle for market share between the country’s main airlines moves to the internet.
Virgin has begun surveying customers on their attitudes towards internet access on flights, looking to gauge how much frequent flyers are prepared to pay and the likelihood that it will influence the choice of airline.
It comes after the airline announced last year that it would introduced wi-fi on its planes by mid-2017.
The survey, seen by Business Insider, posits a range of scenarios reminiscent of Virgin’s early days, when it charged customers for access to pay TV on back-of-the-seat screen that have subsequently disappeared from planes as technology switched to wifi-connected in-flight entertainment via an app smartphone and tablet app.
The Virgin plan appears to offer two internet levels – a “basic” service priced between $8 and $14 per flight, which it says would be “ideal for general browsing, online shopping, emails and social media”; and “high speed”, priced at between $15 and $21, for streaming video, for example Netflix.
“On some flights the price would be free, or the first 30 minutes would be free,” Virgin’s survey begins.
It says the internet would work from boarding to disembarkation, via laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Virgin’s move comes as Qantas was forced to delay a media demonstration of its upcoming high speed wi-fi this week. The Flying Kangaroo has been trialling the service, via NBN satellite, on one plane and is scheduled to roll out free internet across the fleet in the first half of 2017 before focussing on international sevices.
But just a day before the demonstration was due to roll out, the airline cancelled it citing “stability issues”.
The Virgin Australia survey posits more than a dozen scenarios at different price points in an attempt to weigh up how much internet access and the cost would influence a passenger’s choice of airline. It creates a range of basic fare scenarios between the two airlines – from equally prices to Qantas being up to $20 more expensive, alongside a range of free, priced or no internet access options.
Survey respondents are asked to imagine they’re flying between Sydney and Brisbane or Melbourne — flights that take around 90 minutes.
Somewhat mischievously, it offers internet on Qantas at a range of prices – between $6 and $10 for basic, $10 and $17 for high speed – in a number of scenarios that mean the difference in the total cost of a flights between is only a few dollars.
Qantas plans to offer its high speed service, along with access to Stan and Netflix, for free.
One question has a $225 flight on Qantas with no internet, alongside a $205 Virgin flight with internet for $12 (basic) with the first 30 minutes free, and high speed for $17, asking which flight you’d choose.
Another has a $205 Qantas flight with free internet alongside a $195 Virgin flight with $6 basic or $15 high speed access with 30 minutes for free. One scenario has both airlines offering free internet, but the Qantas flight is $20 more expensive.
It also asks if users would consider Tiger or Jetstar if internet access was available.
The survey concludes by asking how often a passenger would be likely to watch a streaming service, browse news websites, use social media, messenger apps, email or shop.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Business Insider that the airline “is on track to begin introducing inflight wifi connectivity this year”.