Following announcements last week that BA will be offering on-board e-mail and internet access for its passengers, Kevin George, BA`s Senior Manager for Product Change, speaks to ITN exclusively about BA`s plans and aspirations for this dynamic service.
BA has selected Connexion by Boeing to provide their connectivity, being the only service available that provides broadband technology to and from the aircraft, direct to the seat for passengers.
Unable to discuss the expenditure that BA has undertaken, Kevin revealed that this deal would mutually benefit BA and Connexion.
“We are running a live three month trial with customers in order to assess the commercial functions that we have used in our business model”. He adds, “The objectives of this trial are to determine whether our assumptions of these functions are valid; how many customers will use it, what they will pay and how long they will use it for”.
During this trial period, BA will initially charge passengers 20 pounds as a flat-rate for the entire flight. Kevin comments, “We want to test whether that`s the right figure or whether customers would be happier paying on a per-minute basis”.
Although this service will only be available initially in BA`s First Club World and World Traveller Plus Cabins, Kevin reveals that `subject to these trials` BA hope to roll the service out across their entire long-haul fleet. He comments. “It is our aspiration that this will ultimately replace in-flight entertainment so this would go throughout the aircraft” Kevin pointed out that many business travellers now travel in economy class.
Prior to the offering, BA carried out extensive research, interviewing UK and US consumers and corporate travellers. They also went to a number of Corporate accounts in the US and UK to assess their level of interest.
Kevin informed me that from their research, BA found 75% of business travellers carry a laptop and 50% make use of them in the flight. There were very high levels of interest in having real-time connectivity and the corporates showed interest geared around productivity of their employees.
“For business travellers, the key advantage is the ability to access corporate email accounts and their corporate intranets. Broadband provides the user with real-time access to the world-wide web. Broadband connection is also necessary to access corporate intranets”.
BA`s research also revealed that there was a far higher demand for internet and email access than for live entertainment. Kevin comments: “With broadband connection, the system is totally capable of live television and radio. BA will not initially offer this service, but it is our long term plan to do so”.
Having undergone extensive cost cuts this year I asked Kevin why BA felt it appropriate to bring in this service now. He commented: “This is a good time to be running the trial because in terms of our future planning, we see that this is something that will come. Since we`ve just completed the change of our cabins to the new club world flat bed, now is a good time to take on this work internally”.
“This system does have the capability to deliver great cost efficiency to the airline. Our cabin crew can be connected producing a lot of logistic advantages. For example, we now have the ability to transmit large amounts of data between the aircraft and the ground in real-time. There are also significant operational benefits to the airline that we will be looking to explore in the future”.
BA has high expectations for this exciting new addition. Kevin concludes: “Ultimately, it`s about creating differentiation from our competitors and making the airline a choice not for only business travellers, but ultimately, for all our long-haul customers”. He added. “We like to think that our brand is associated with innovation to our customers, so in the same way that we brought the ability to sleep in business class, now we`re bringing the ability to work, or use the Internet as a form of entertainment”.