Managing limits

Yesterday I spent many more hours inside a plane than is advisable: 11 between Madrid and Dallas, and then three more to Detroit, where I spent today at the North America International Auto Show (NAIAS), a guest of the Ford Motor Company. I spent the flight involved in range of tasks other than I would usually, given that most of what I do requires something that is still difficult to get on an airplane: an internet connection.

That said, some things have improved over the last couple of years: airlines seem to have given up on the superstition that electronic devices will bring a plane crashing to the ground during landing and take off. At the same time, aircraft have been incorporating connectivity systems that allow them not only to offer television programs in real time, but also a certain amount of bandwidth to passengers.

This is no simple matter: any equipment installed in an aircraft must pass all kinds of tests, so that once the airline has made that investment it must be amortized to the full and replacement put off for as long as possible. But the sad truth is that as things stand, using bandwidth aboard an aircraft is still not much fun, and no matter how good the quality of the service is, from the airline’s point of view, the experience comes down to managing the customer’s expectations.

As said, airlines have to take into account myriad factors when deciding which devices to install in their fleets, and deciding which service to opt for must also take into account the reality that two companies, Boeing and Airbus, pretty much control the aircraft industry.

In 2014, the first time I had the opportunity to try out WiFi on an airplane was through OnAir, and the experience was not pleasant: 22MB for $19.95, or 50MB for $29.95, with an additional charge deterrent of $ 0.171 per 100KB extra.

Yesterday, the service I used had a time limit of two hours, four hours, or the entire duration of the flight for $20. The result was similar in terms of quality — I did not expect anything else knowing the technological challenge of connectivity at 30,000 feet — but infinitely more relaxed. I was able to carry out most of the routine tasks I perform in a normal connection, simply with a bit more patience in some cases, and avoiding the use of video-based applications: just a matter of common sense.

The experience led me to think about how tremendously important it is to pose restrictions to users in the right way. In general, most people have no idea about how many megas this or that content consumes, but we do all understand a concept as simple as “you have this number of hours of connection,” which could also be interrupted as many times as desired.

In the end, pricing is a secondary factor: I still found the internet connection expensive, but I prefer to have the option and take the decision of whether I want to pay for it or not, to not have it, or for the price to be incorporated into the price of the ticket even if I’m not going to use it, as long as the experience is good.

In the case of yesterday, a service recently adopted by American Airlines based on technology provided by Panasonic, is clearly an option that takes into account the user experience, and despite its limitations, was positive overall, allowing me to spend time exchanging comments with my family, moderating comments on my page or reading and writing tweets.

At the end of the day, the limitations of both services are similar, except that one is really only for an emergency, while the other means paying for the simple pleasure of remaining connected, even if you have nothing specific to do online. The former leaves you feeling frustrated, the second doesn’t. It’s pretty much a matter of common sense. Is that really so hard for some airlines to understand?

(En español, aquí)