In-flight Internet: Qantas’ failure to launch


news Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, has announced a new trial run of in-flight Internet connectivity on its superjumbo A380 for passengers on intercontinental flights between Australia and the United States. But it’s not the airline’s first attempt to bring in-flight connectivity to its passengers; in fact, Qantas has repeatedly struggled with the issue over the past decade.

In a statement this week, Qantas said six flights have been equipped with Internet technology on the Sydney-Los Angeles, and Melbourne-Los Angeles routes. Alison Webster, executive manager customer experience of Qantas, said customers would be able to access the Internet through their Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as laptops, iPhones, ipads, and BlackBerrys for the very first time.

The eight-week trial would give customers the opportunity to access the Internet in exactly the same way as a terrestrial Wi-Fi hotspot in which customers paid with their credit card to use the email, and surf the Internet, Webster said. OnAir provides the connectivity service using Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband and global satellite-based connections, to transfer data between airborne passengers and the ground.

This trial, initially open to customers travelling First Class and Business Class, would help Qantas determine its connectivity options, and evaluate the possibility of using next generation communication platforms. Webster said that Qantas was the first airline in the world to conduct a trial of Internet services on direct flights between the US and Australia. “Over the past week Qantas has conducted some preliminary testing and is pleased to now trial the service with customers flying between Australia and Los Angeles,” Webster said.

It is only towards the end of last year that United Airlines announced its intention to have the Internet on its intercontinental flights, though domestic flights in the US had been offering the Internet for a couple of years now. At the end of 2010, Lufthansa had launched Wi-Fi on select North Atlantic routes as a beginning, before expanding to all their intercontinental routes.

Qantas was the world’s first airline to offer in-flight iPads loaded with movies, shows and music to its passengers including those in economy class, on the 767-300. Qantas used a central server on board to stream content to specially configured iPads. Interestingly these would stop working once the aircraft touched down.

However, it’s not the first time Qantas has attempted to bring in-flight Internet to its passengers. As early as 2003, as aircraft manufacturer Boeing kicked off a trial of in-flight Internet, Qantas said it was investigating in-flight email and Internet connectivity on international flights. “Qantas will therefore be watching the trial with interest,” a spokesperson for the airline told at the time.

For several years the idea went nowhere, but by 2006 the idea had been revived at Qantas, with the airline using its website at the time to announce that it would offer in-flight Internet when it started flying its new fleet of Airbus A380 planes. At the time, the timing for Qantas’ launch was to be mid-2007.

By 2007, however, that time frame had been pushed back again to August 2008. In July 2007 Qantas announced again that it would bring wireless Internet to customers flying on its A380s. In March 2008 — although International customers still hadn’t received in-flight Internet services at that point — customers flying on domestic routes with Qantas got some hope that the airline would implement the feature on in-country flights, with the airline announcing at the time that it would introduce in-flight Internet through a mobile base station, that would allow mobile phones to access the service.

It’s not clear what happened to those plans, but Qantas certainly doesn’t encourage customers in 2012 to use their mobile phones on its planes, domestic or international. And in September 2008, the airline abandoned long-held plans to bring Internet to its international routes using the A380 craft. No real reason was given by the airline at the time, and the issue has remained fairly dormant since that time, despite the continuing interest from passangers in in-flight Internet services and the availability of such services in countries such as the US.

I will be surprised if Qantas ever manages to get in-flight Internet off the ground. The airline has been struggling with the issue for the past decade, has conducted a clutch of trials in the area, but has never quite managed to get this apparently simple technology to work well.

I regularly hear from readers who have travelled in the US on in-country flights and who have been extremely surprised to learn that in-flight Internet “just works” on some carriers there. This experience suggests that Australia’s national airline simply hasn’t been trying hard enough to bring this in-demand feature to Australia. Isn’t about time Qantas got in-flight Internet off the ground?

Image credit: Qantas. Opinion/analysis and Qantas history lesson by Renai LeMay.


  1. The in country US Internet service uses GROUND based transmitters. I think you’ll find that it’s a bit hard to use ground based services across the pacific for quite a few reasons the main one being the lack of well… Ground. Satellite services have also been difficult as The satellite providers don’t have many satellite positioned over the pacific due to the lack of population so very limited bandwidth. Also Australia’s population density is way to small for a ground based Internet service like in the US.

    • Then Qantas should say this publicly, and stop faffing around. Furthermore, why not do a ground service between Sydney and Melbourne, at least? Or between Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra?

      • Yeah given the traffic between Melb-Syd it’s difficult to understand why we can’t match the US just for that route.

        • So the airlines should fit a system to all there aircraft just in case it’s flying between Sydney and Melbourne for the 40mins you’ll be able to have your electronic device turned on when most of the frequent flyers would rather be out of contact from the office for an hour anyway?

      • Inflight Internet on a 1 hour trip? Are we really that desperate for Internet access? By the time you’re finished with your meal you’re preparing to land.

  2. Isn’t long haul flying uncomfortable enough without
    someone next to you disturbing your peace and quiet
    while fumbling around with their laptop/ipad/blackberry,phone etc etc?
    If they do introduce this (or mobile phone coverage),
    let’s hope they split seating into areas with and without
    the service.

    • *shrugs* I don’t remember a lot of people on public transport being disturbed by me quietly using my iPad or iPhone to browse the net or check my email ;)

    • The amount of electronics I carry with me on a typical flight would put Apollo 11 to shame. Although not being expected to answer emails or phones calls is nice for those couple of hours in the air.

  3. Renai how can you possible believe that 400 plus people connecting to the internet via satellite on a hollow aluminum tube doing 900km/h is “apparently simple technology”!! Telstra can’t even connect reliable ADSL Internet to my wifes office.
    Also how is Qantas “faffing” around? The purpose of trials is to try something. You see if it is technically possible, if people are interested and how much they are willing to pay and then if you can make a business case to go ahead with it. Hopefully this current TRIAL is successfull and Qantas can implement it. Feedback from crews who have operated these flights say that it seems to work well and customer feedback has been good. In the end if it ends up being too expensive and people don’t use it the trial will fail and then Qantas will continue to watch the technology and when there is another change they will probably run another trial. Not “faffing about” just business.
    Why the big announcements then? Well if you don’t tell people about a trial you don’t get enough feedback so it’s impossible to gauge the interest and come to a proper conclusion.
    I do work for Qantas but not connected to this Internet trial just a pilot who is sick of totally negative unfounded Qantas bashing.

    • It’s faffing around because Qantas haven’t announced a conclusion from all the trials. Either do it or don’t do it — don’t endlessly delay it, announce that it’s coming but then not launch it, etc. There is too much uncertainty, and it doesn’t appear to be driven by technological uncertainty — it more appears to be driven by project management uncertainty.

      • Completely agree with you on this Renai. I think the biggest problem is that they’re trying to use non-technical project managers to handle what is very much a technical project. This is an ongoing practice in a number of large Australian organisations and needs to be stopped sooner rather than later, lest we fall even further behind in the technological race than the likes of the US or Europe. Australia is already a technology backwater, why make it worse than it needs to be?

  4. We are all going to die if they continue with this madness. Experts like pilots and hostesses have told us for years that phones and computers are killers so these planes will surely crash and burn.

    • @Tim (11.3.2012 – 8:50pm) … how about you be our test case!!! you fly on 1,000,000 flights all whilst using your mobile phone! the plane doesn’t crash or anything and at the end of it you’re still alive == (in your eyes) case proven. BUT WHAT IF it were possible that out of those 1,000,000 flights, your phone *could* cause the plane to crash and for you to die … not only you but 400+ other lives lost.
      You’d rather put your + other lives at risk – good to see where your + Renai’s morals lie … untill science/tech can prove WITHOUT A DOUBT – even just putting 1 life at risk is too many!

      As to the article (@Renai) – AU is not US … as mentioned by others in the comments, *maybe* sydney-to-melbourne in near future … but yeah, perth-east coast is certainly a different ball game … AND CERTAINLY long-haul (intercontinental) flights are an even greater leap forward.

      Lastly (@Renai) – you should be lucky that Qantas has disclosed it’s future prospects – alot of companies tend to keep their R&D/upcoming-tech behind closed doors so that competitors don’t get the jump (but has to be balanced with media hype too)… but since other local (AU) competitors haven’t beaten Qantas to this … proves that it isn’t “apparently simple technology” which can be easily implimented at the drop of a hat.

      • Look,mate, this isn’t a matter of morals. It’s a matter of technology. The technology works in the US. If there is some reason we can’t have it in Australia I’d like to see Qantas explain that. That is all.

        • Ok, morals aside (that part of my comment was directed towards Tim not you) why haven’t other major airlines brought this tech into play for intercontinental flights between AU-to-US (or even within short-haul AU)??? Perhaps because the tech hasn’t been fully developed to work sufficiently at an AFFORDABLE price.
          As previous comments mentioned, just because it works in US (short-haul) …doesn’t mean it’s going to instantly work here.

          Also (while not spruiking for qantas) – perhaps Qantas’ marketing department was over eager in promoting a future service, but they’ve never said that it’s available now (so not misleading advertising) … and as I said, other competitors haven’t beaten them to the line either … so must be some other factor at play.
          Companies spruik ‘up&coming’ ideas all the time, even when they never come to market – so why is this such an issue?

          • The fact that they were conducting trials creates an expectation in customers’ minds that those trials would result in either a move to implement the technology, or a decision that the technology is not ready.

            However, Qantas has done neither — it hasn’t made a decision either way. After a decade. And that is what annoys people like me ;)

  5. Renai – if you feel that Qantas has been misleading in their advertising/announcements then by all means, contact the ACCC about your concerns … but (from my point of view) over all the years, they’ve done nothing deceptive and everything is completely normal in terms of how a major business markets up&coming ideas to the relative industry.

  6. Typical Qantas BS – these guys really should start concentrating on its core business – getting people from A to B on time !!!

    Qantas continues to faff about with stupid technology when it has a core staff that are not happy and planes that are never on time.

    I am a frequent flyer and avoid flying Qantas because they have not got the simple things right even now – how many years have they been in business ???

    Another joke from a company that has no idea what their client base really wants !!

  7. I love not being able to be contacted while on long flights, Its one of only a few legitimate reasons for not “answering an email” straight away. If there was internet on long haul flights, I recon there’d be a long que for the toilet, so people can “relief” themselves

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