The good news: Air New Zealand is offering free Wi-Fi to customers on all wi-fi enabled flights this summer - or at least from now until February 28.

The bad: part-time travel blogger and full-time telco engineer Steve Biddle says he's not sure how the free internet will hold up if everybody piles in.

Frequent flyer Biddle says he's had great experiences with Air NZ's free Wi-Fi himself, with solid 20 megabits per second downloads and 5 Mbps up.

But he adds, "As a network engineer I am curious about the decision to give away the service for free though - if half of the 342 potential passengers on a Boeing 777-300ER decided to use the Wi-Fi it would very likely result in a disappointing end-user experience."


Finite bandwidth, delivered to the plane via satellite, would become saturated. The three wi-fi points sprinkled through the cabin would also get overwhelmed and everybody's internet slow to a crawl.

Given approximately 100 per cent on passengers use a smartphone or tablet on any bus or train where a mobile signal or wi-fi is available, it's not hard to imagine more than half of those on a flight taking advantage of free internet.

An Air NZ spokeswoman admits Biddle could have a point.

"Customers should expect speeds suitable to support good quality browsing, emails, social media, and messaging," she says.

"However, bandwidth is shared across all passengers on each aircraft so naturally there will be some impact on speed when Wi-Fi is in greater demand."

She adds, "Since late Friday, we have offered free Wi-Fi on 39 flights, with positive customer feedback."

Biddle also says that while he's always been happy with his wi-fi experience, he's had reports of glitches from others. He wonders if the free wi-fi period is in part to allow the airline breathing space to iron out bugs before it resumes billing.

Air New Zealand is rolling out wi-fi across its international network, with the service now available on four of its Boeing 777-300 aircraft and five of its Boeing 777-200 aircraft. These aircraft predominantly operate the airline's trans-Tasman, US and London routes.


Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace says, "We've had great customer interest in our inflight Wi-Fi product since we first started rolling it out on our international jet fleet in October last year. Offering free Wi-Fi over the summer period is a great way for our customers to be able to stay connected with friends and family."

Standard Wi-Fi on Air New Zealand services is usually charged at $30 for a full flight to Australia and the Pacific Islands and $40 for the duration of a flight to North America, Europe and Asia destinations. There is also a 1-hour pass available for $9 on North America, Europe and Asia services.

"Technical challenges aside, the announcement is great news if you're a passenger on an Air New Zealand international flight this summer," Biddle says.