Low-Cost Airlines Evaluate Inflight Connectivity Services at GAI Summit

Colton Snow, vice president of product and e-commerce for Sun Country Airlines, delivered the keynote address for the CAI Summit on Friday, June 3.

In-flight connectivity (IFC) topics were a major focus at the Connected Aviation Intelligence (CAI) Summit, held in Reston, Virginia earlier this month. Representatives of Air Canada, Panasonic Avionics, Intelsat Corpand Stellar Blue Solutions discussed the value of satellite technology for in-flight entertainment (IFE) offerings. Another panel comprising representatives of Breeze Airways, El Al Airlinesand ST Engineering iDirect presented next-generation strategies to increase bandwidth to support IFC.

On the final day of the CAI Summit, Colton Snow, Vice President of Product and E-Commerce for Sun Country Airlines, delivered the keynote address regarding the airline’s current unconnected inflight passenger experience strategy. There are several use cases for IFC, Snow conceded, such as enabling connectivity for cabin crew to increase aircraft safety and reliability, or to process onboard transactions and eliminate related issues. payment methods refused. However, he said, none of these are compelling enough at this point to entice Sun Country to invest in the technology.

“Long term, there are catalysts that will move us to in-flight connectivity,” Snow explained. One of them is a change in customer expectations. Less than 0.5% of Sun Country passengers mention Wi-Fi in their feedback submitted through surveys. At some point in the future, once customers again include access to IFC in their decision-making criteria, it will justify an investment in technology.

A significant portion of Sun Country Airlines’ customer base are leisure travelers; 97% of the markets served are seasonal. Popular destinations include Aruba, Honolulu, Turks & Caicos and St. Thomas. For leisure customers, Snow said, streaming and entertainment covers the basics of their in-flight experience. The airline’s target customer base is people between the ages of 46 and 51, married and earning a family income of $97,000 to $107,000. “These customers ultimately care about getting value,” he said. They value low fares and a good in-flight experience. As an Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC), Sun Country must maintain low prices to guarantee low rates. Snow explained: “This sets a high bar for capital-intensive investments in onboard experience, such as in-flight connectivity, which may not have a tangible or direct return on investment that we can manage or own. “

To compete with other ULCCs such as Allegiant and Frontier, Sun Country aims to balance low fares with a positive flight experience by offering complimentary beverage service, in-seat power, and free streaming of IFE content on passengers’ personal devices. The company had three choices in its approach to IFC and IFE, Snow explained: do nothing, offer IFE streaming, or offer both IFE and Internet access. For leisure travelers visiting friends or going on vacation, in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t offer as much value as the ability to watch TV or movies in-flight. “A lot of people fly with other airlines for business and expect connectivity,” he added.

“We’ve experimented with in-flight tablets, but found they require more maintenance, and most people prefer to bring their own technology on board, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops,” Brian said. Davis, marketing director of Sun Country. Avionics in a statement emailed last year.

The cost of offering in-flight connectivity is also an important point for the airline. With such a focus on low tariffs, the cost passed on to customers for IFC must be minimal. “We should really move forward with a strategy where that is built into the cost of the fare,” Snow remarked in his keynote presentation.

Story by Jessica Reed, editor of Aviation Today