BA wi-fi pricing revealed as in-flight trials begin

If you read Head for Points on a regular basis you will know that British Airways is gearing up for the roll-out of wi-fi on its long-haul fleet very soon.  It is also coming to short-haul but with a different system.

What most people don’t know is that the system is already installed on many long-haul BA planes.  BA is not turning it on at the moment, presumably because it wants the majority of the fleet to be ready on Day 1.  Making a big song and dance about it, only for passengers to find out that they only have a small chance of being on a suitable plane, would be another PR mess.

The BA long-haul wi-fi should be pretty good.  By holding back for a few years, it is now able to use ‘next generation’ technology which should allow connection speeds substantially better than you have experienced on other carriers.

To make sure that the system is running smoothly when installed, British Airways is currently testing wi-fi on random long-haul services.  There is no way of knowing that you are on one until the cabin crew announces it.

Here is a map showing roughly where in the world the service will be accessible:

What will it cost?

Quite a lot.  In fact, more than I expected.

There are two levels of service.   If you want to stream video or do anything else which requires a lot of bandwidth, you will need to dig deep.  Here are the prices for ‘Connect Plus’ as BA calls it:

1 hour – £7.99

4 hours – £17.99

Entire flight – £23.99

Peak download speeds are stated as 20 Mbps with a peak upload speed of 2 Mbps.  On average users are told to expect between 25% and 50% of this speed.

Given typical UK residential speeds for anyone not on cable broadband this won’t be much worse than being at home.  A quick test on our Virgin Media cabled broadband wi-fi gave me 50+ Mbps but our backup Relish system, which works over the mobile spectrum, was only running at 5 Mbps.

If you want to do simple browsing, such as e-mail, it is cheaper – but still far from a bargain:

1 hour – £4.99

4 hours – £10.99

Entire flight – £14.99

The reason I am surprised by the pricing is that in-flight wi-fi is usually priced highly to artificially limit demand.  You can only get a decent speed if the majority of passengers do not try to use it.

Theoretically, the British Airways system can support more users at higher speeds than we have seen before.  BA does not need to price it at a level which will put off 90% of passengers, but it seems they are.

It appears, based on the trials, that all passengers have to pay irrespective of travel class.  (This is fairly normal –  I had to pay whilst in Etihad First Class recently.)

Notwithstanding the pricing, this is an important development for British Airways and one which I hope succeeds.  For every passenger who refuses to fly BA due to the seating or food quality, there is probably another who refuses purely on the basis that they cannot work in the air.

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  1. Jimmy says:

    Rob, you need to be more circumspect when reading PR blurb. Fibre (FTTC being the most common) is *much* faster generally than 20Mbps. I get 65Mbps myself along copper wire into my home (after FTTC) without a Virgin in sight.

    However for those in the sticks, where FTTC is uneconomical to install, those guys will get snail speeds in comparison.

    Thereafter, while the BA pricing is clearly aimed at the business traveller (on expenses)…don’t be fooled into thinking that all connected users will stream content (in a practical, viable manner) if there are numerous concurrent users, second gen implementation or otherwise. There will be a bandwidth constriction that will dictate the final outcome on any given flight.

  2. Fenny says:

    I’m sure there will be plenty of people who choose to pay for the wifi. Probably the same people who can’t cope with having to turn their phone off until the doors open at the other end of the flight. I’m sure those people will also complain when the promised speeds are not delivered.

    • Callum says:

      I find it amusing how so many people on this site look down on others with thinly veiled disgust because they want to use their phone etc., yet moaning about dented milk cartons, sandwiches still having the cling film on them or, oh the horror, having to go an hour without free alcohol, is legitimate…

      (I obviously don’t know your personal view on those specific things, so I’m talking generally!)

      • bill says:

        hear hear, you should have seen how people on here lost their rag when BA took away the bacon rolls.

      • the real harry1 says:

        heh heh Callum 🙂

        nothing was ever wrong about exaggerating to make your point

  3. CV3V says:

    Wifi on plane uses:
    Post pic on Facebook, showing i am on a plane with wifi.
    Post pics of my food on Facebook, showing i am eating on a plane, that has wifi.
    Try streaming to phone/tablet to then realise I would be better off using the IFE instead and that have used up my phone battery (and that i cant charge an iphone 7 and use headphones at the same time without a stupid extra cable).
    Get really annoyed at the passenger sat beside me who has been doing precisely the same things as me, but is now using Facetime to talk (loudly) to friend and showing them the cabin.

    Next there will be a 3G signal on the London underground (in the tunnels, like other cities).

  4. Andrew Lyons says:

    I read the announcement about charges for mobile data on BA with interest, but what happens to the Club London City flight to JFK? This has always had free mobile data from its inception. Are BA going to charge for it now, in which case that is retrograde. Conversely I would be extremely annoyed being charged £23 for this Facilty in First whilst someone travelling Club had it for free!!

    • CWLCY has never had free mobile data to my knowledge – it’s always charged via your mobile operator at (normally) extortionate overseas rates.

  5. Nick OCallaghan says:

    I would say the pricing is definitely not too bad. Not much more than what the US Carriers charge on domestic flights here in the States. Looking forward to seeing if it works the majority of the time…..

  6. Nick says:

    I’ve been digging around the internet, and for those interested, the wifi is starting on 747s (think why… the ‘Super J’ is designed for high-business routes). Forget CV3V’s comments above, which merely express ignorance about modern aircraft – the 787 ‘wifi’ on the ground is for the various engineering systems to ‘talk’ to each other and not for passenger use (and is the same on all 787 aircraft worldwide).

    BA is apparently also aware that customers can use Bluetooth to ‘pool’ connections and have accepted that this will simply happen (presumably factored into the price). I imagine they’d take a dim view of ‘reselling’, but don’t know how much they could do about it!

  7. keith s says:

    In economy I barely fit in the seat and can only just eat the ‘meal’, then when the person in front pushes their seat fully reclined it leaves no room to get a laptop out to work, I might just be able to use a tablet up in my face so wifi is a bit pointless if I travel economy. I can see the benefit in club and FIRST. BA could actually make it complementary in FIRST and for relatively little money for the 12-14 seats have a differentiated offering…

  8. Alex says:

    Free WiFi last time I travelled on Norwegian…..just saying…..