WestJet to be first Canadian airline to offer broad Wi-Fi access
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
Flight crews at one of Canada’s largest airlines are soon going to have to come up with a new blurb to replace the one about turning off wireless devices before take-off.
WestJet has announced that it will begin offering their passengers Wi-Fi connectivity while in flight by the end of 2014.
The Calgary-based airline is looking to improve its business traveller market, a demographic generally dominated by Air Canada. Offering Wi-Fi as an option will allow its passengers to surf the web, check and respond to email, and even stream their favourite shows while in transit.
The system is a part of WestJet’s plan to revamp its in-flight entertainment system, and Internet connectivity will be offered via satellite uplink, a service offered by Panasonic Avionics Corporation, which provides much of the in-flight entertainment systems for the world’s airlines.
WestJet will be testing the system on one of its aircraft before gradually rolling out the system to the rest of its fleet of jets.
The plan will also include a bit of an interior renovation of the aircraft, as WestJet plans to install USB outlets on slimmer seat backs, replacing their current stock of seats with embedded screens. The outlets will allow passengers to charge their wireless devices while in flight.
Some have taken to online forums and discussion boards to express concerns about the plan for slimmer seats, saying that the airline is looking to create room for more passengers on already cramped airplanes. WestJet has not responded to these claims, but the Other Press has spoken with a flight engineer, Robert Rorison, who says that the seating capacity on an aircraft is often determined by the aircraft’s manufacturer and stipulated in Transport Canada regulations.
WestJet will also account for those passengers who are not flying with their own wireless devices, offering up tablets for passengers to use. There is no word on whether the airline plans to charge for device rentals or what those devices may be. WestJet’s internal data suggests that about 75 per cent of their passengers travel with their own wireless devices.
While WestJet’s plan is groundbreaking for Canada, it was beaten in the Wi-Fi race by Air Canada’s discount carrier Rouge. However, although PC laptops functioned easily using a plug-in downloaded onboard, owners of Apple devices had to download an app prior to boarding the plane to use the Wi-Fi service. WestJet’s plan is to offer broader access to passengers with multiple devices.
The plan will still require regulatory approval from Transport Canada, a process which is expected to take place later this year.