JetBlue eager to stay the course with free broadband Internet


How does a company react when its product is even more successful than it expected? For JetBlue and its inflight Wi-Fi partners Thales and ViaSat this is a very real challenge.

JetBlue introduced its FlyFi product in late 2013 with a tiered pricing model. Basic usage would be free but streaming or other bandwidth-intensive usage required the (rather pricey $9/hour) paid option. That decision was made because, “[W]e expected that [the free product] would not be able to support streaming so the paid product was designed to facilitate customers who wanted to stream video,” according to Jamie Perry, the carrier’s VP brand & product development. But it turns out JetBlue underestimated the capabilities of the system.

“Once we actually started flying it became apparent that we could sustain not just a little bit of streaming but actually a reasonable quantity of streaming in the free product. This was one of those things that we just didn’t know at the time and only with real customer usage can we work these things out. That leaves the paid product with a little bit of an identity crisis.”

The free option is not going away any time soon; Perry was clear on that. Later in 2015 access will be integrated with the airline’s TrueBlue program such that membership will be part of the free access. Moreover, when presented with the option of just throttling down the bandwidth for the free access Perry quipped, “It is not particularly high on the list. The goal has always been to sustain a free product. We continue to want to keep the free product free.”

This is good news for consumers who are demanding ever-more bandwidth and who generally do not want to be paying for it. It is also good news for Thales and ViaSat who can continue to brag about the ability of the Ka-band satellite connectivity solution to support higher consumption at lower costs. It is also good for JetBlue from a passenger service perspective.

Perhaps the only folks who will be upset at this news are the Wall Street analysts looking to see the carrier increase its ancillary revenue numbers; that does not seem likely to happen via the inflight Wi-Fi system any time soon. Then again, with the sponsored content partners such as the Wall Street Journal maybe the ancillary stream is working, just not directly from consumers.