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Four Ways Airlines Could Make In-flight Wi-Fi Free

From a marketing standpoint, money can't buy a more exquisitely perfect demographic than airline passengers: bored, opinionated, and current users of the company's product. Why are airlines passing up the opportunity to collect data or sell products in exchange for free in-flight wifi?

I was fortunate enough to be on two airlines this week offering wifi, Virgin American and Southwest (in beta testing). Instead of paying an absurdly overpriced access fee, I decided to spend time thinking of ways to write this blog. Here are 4 ways to make free wifi profitable.

1). Advertise your own company and services: I didn't start regularly flying Southwest until years later when I learned why they have a super-high customer satisfaction rating: Their democratic management style makes their employees super efficient, they have a great ticket-cancellation policy, and they're nearly always on time. Only then did I learn that I could expect to have a good experience. Southwest could easily make a promotion video showing off why they're super cool, add in a clip of their youtube viral video and, then, direct customers to southwest.com for special in-flight discounts. Only a fraction of customers need to purchase something during their flight to make this strategy profitable.

2). Collect a percentage of shopping revenue. Virgin America currently has a "shopping section," where customers can purchase a short-list of items (such as in-flight headphones). Why not think bigger? Partner with Paypal, Google checkout, or Visa to offer customer discounts and share a percentage of the revenue from in-flight purchases.

3). Make customers your charity arm: I buy from companies that share my taste in charity. Airlines could replace the wifi access fee with a donation to one of several pre-selected charities. Customers will leave with a positive feeling and a tax-deductible donation, and the airline fills it's charity quota with an exact match of it's customer's desires. To boot, the recipient of the charity could write a thank you letter months later, which essentially amounts to free advertising.

4). Survey customers: its nearly impossible to collect accurate impression after or before customers use a product. Exchanging an in-depth survey during a flight would not only give in-use impressions, a survey could be given at the beginning and end of the flight to see how impressions change.

I'll bet any of my readers that wifi will be free in the near future. And, airline execs will slap their heads in wonderment why they ever consider charging such a valuable demographic,

Gregory Ferenstein

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*Schedule me for a speaking engagement gferenst [at] uci [dot] edu

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