A variety of factors may be behind recent moves by some U.S. airlines to drop prices on inflight WiFi, but so far only one major airline has made it a free perk, with one other lagging on its promise to do so.
Alaska Airlines just dropped its WiFi price to $8 per flight, eliminating a series of distance and other factors that used to be involved, and United is now charging $8 for its MileagePlus members and $10 for others. It's also the price on Southwest.
American, meanwhile continues to charge $29 on cross-country flights and high rates on other itineraries. At the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue makes a selling point of its free connectivity, and Delta CEO Ed Bastian has promised free WiFi in the future, but does not appear to be moving that way yet.
When in-flight connectivity first appeared in 2008, it was limited, expensive and seen largely as an appeal to business travelers, which at expense-account prices it certainly was. But with the switch in recent years from ground-based to satellite-based WiFi service, it's become faster, more reliable and has also become the source for many airlines' in-flight entertainment systems.
With business travel still in a slump, and leisure travel showing strong growth, airlines may see cheaper WiFi as a chance for increased revenue, selling dozens of $8 tickets rather than a sprinkling of buyers at the higher prices.