Airline Wi-Fi Hasn't Caught On With Business Travelers

Only 25% of U.S. business travelers are using Wi-Fi hotspots in airports and on planes, despite the growing availability of the connections, a new Gartner study says.

Only a quarter of U.S. business travelers are using Wi-Fi hotspots in airports and jetliners, despite the growing availability of the high-speed, wireless connections, a research firm said Tuesday.

The percentage is even lower in the United Kingdom, where 17 percent of business travelers take advantage of the technology, Gartner Inc. said.

The low adoption rate is occurring despite the growing number of hotspots over the last several years and the fact that manufacturers have been offering Wi-Fi support in notebooks for the last two years.

Users have been ignoring Wi-Fi in airports and in-flight because of educational, cultural and financial reasons, not because of the technology itself, Gartner said.

“While Wi-Fi has come a long way, our survey shows that many business travelers remain uncertain as to why they should use Wi-Fi, what equipment they need, how they can connect and what they will be charged,” Gartner analyst Delia MacMillan said in a statement. “If Wi-Fi providers really want to attract new customers they must convince both end users and organizations of its benefits.”

For example, airlines, such as Lufthansa and SAS in Europe, and ANA, JAL and Singapore Airlines in Asia, are adding wireless Internet access in their jetliners. Yet, 78 percent of U.S. travelers and 75 percent of U.K. travelers said that they would rather be out of contact while in the air.

Higher priorities than in-flight access to the Internet and e-mail were more personal space, bigger baggage allowance and better entertainment.

Among those people who use Wi-Fi in airports or on jetliners, the respondents were happiest with the speed of connection, ease of use and overall value. They were least happy with the price of the services and the limited availability of hot spots in useful locations.

“Many organizations will not reimburse their personnel for Wi-Fi access charges, as these fees are often not covered by their telecom contracts," MacMillan said. "If airlines can commit to lower prices then the provision of Wi-Fi access could prove a key attraction to business travelers.”

Prices overweighed worries about security with only 16 percent of the 2,000 travelers Gartner surveyed expressing concerns about security.

Gartner predicts that 3G networks under construction to provide broadband to cellular phones could put pressure on Wi-Fi providers to cut prices. Contracts for 3G are more cost-effective for travelers who require frequent access to data, while the occasional traveler who doesn't need frequent access is more likely to look for a Wi-Fi connection.

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