Air New Zealand's introduction of Wi-Fi was met with praise but also indignation after it was revealed passengers would have to pay a hefty price to use it.

The original price-tag of "$40 a sector" drew outrage from passengers and was significantly higher than competitors.

Following an expose in the Weekend Herald the carrier decided to drop their prices by ten dollars.

This was welcome news for travellers, but the fact remains that inflight wi-fi connection can be extremely costly and inconsistent.


At the same time Qantas are already supplying free Wifi to domestic Boeing 737-800 flights with some impressive download speeds.

What makes such a mediocre connection so expensive while others carriers can provide it free of charge? And why is there such a mixed economy for wi-fi in a plane?

It's becoming an increasingly common feature on passenger airlines but the price and quality of connection can vary hugely.

The main reason why there is so much difference is the difference hardware being used by the aircraft.

Not long ago merely reaching for your mobile phone threatened to plunge the entire aircraft into a death-spiral. Now some airlines are allowing passengers to text and access data on their phones. Passenger mobile use and roaming habits are changing and aircraft are being fitted with technology to provide communications with the ground.

It's still a fairly recent technology, so more recent editions far outstrip the previous models.

Often this means the pioneering airlines which decided to roll out wi-fi first may not provide the best service. Instead it is those arriving last to the party, which are fitting the latest technology and the most impressive offering.

For some airlines the technology still doesn't justify the cost. Air Korea for example has decided not to offer wifi for the time being simply because the current services aren't up to scratch, and are likely to be more cost effective and efficient further down the line.

As for price – for most carriers it will be the business class passengers who foot the bill, or more accurately their employers will be. These airlines are aware that they can charge almost any price to keep their passengers connected to the office while in the skies. Economy class passengers can only gawp at the price and bury their head in the inflight mag.

Meanwhile budget airlines have adopted an entirely different model. They see wifi as a service to differentiate them from their competitors. While the service running at a loss for the airline, this will be worth it if they poach a seat booking from their rivals. Passengers are fickle like that.

In the meantime the best advice regarding inflight wifi would be that is reliably adequate for sending the odd email or holiday insta-snap home, don't expect to catch up on Netflix while you're in the skies. Pack a paperback.

Best internet connections at 10,000 ft

Cathay pacific

Whole flight NZ$19 for flights under 6 hours or NZ$29 over 6 hours on some International Airbus A350 routes

▼2.46 Mbps ▲ 0.24 Mbps PING 1118ms

Qatar Orynx

15 minutes free then NZ$8 per hour up to NZ$29 for the entire flight (with a 200MB limit)

▼ 5-8Mbps ▲ 0.32 5mbs Ping 585ms


10MB of data free, with an extra 500MB for NZ$1.50 on Airbus A380 flights.

▼1.17 Mbps ▲ 0.33Mbps PING 1003ms

American Airlines

From NZ$20 for a day pass on 777-300 International flights with the option of NZ$72 a month unlimited for more frequent fliers.

▼ 15.4 Mbps ▲ 0.38 Mbps PING 713ms

Air New Zealand

NZ$30 per sector (each leg) on long haul Boeing 777-300 flights.

▼ 2.16 Mbps ▲ 2.74 Mbps PING 713ms


Free wifi for 80 of the fleet's Airbus 330s and Boeing 737 routes. So far, domestic only

▼ 10 Mbps ▲ 0.62Mbps PING 1200ms

*Key: ▼ Download speed of files; ▲ Upload speed of files sent; PING signal response speed