Planes, wifi and customer service

I write this from a Qantas plane high above Queensland on my way to Cairns for work. I have gone in recent times from a weekly plane traveller to one with more of a sporadic use of my frequent flyer membership. That change in usage of planes for travelling has brought more sharply to mind the issue of connectivity on planes.

You see, when I was travelling weekly, I loved the down time that being unconnected from the world gave me: I could shut my eyes and relax away from the phone calls and emails and just spend time thinking. It was great and, at the time, I really needed that time.

Now though, the time spent on planes does nothing but irritate me. Forget for the moment the general lateness of planes coming out of Brisbane Airport (another 25 minutes late departure today) and the fact that if I don’t get an exit aisle seat sitting in economy class requires me to shape my body like an origami crane to sit with anything that resembles comfort. Those facts are things I have no real cavil with and have to expect from travelling on planes.

What really irritates is the fact that we still are forced on planes to shut down all electronic devices and are required to place all devices in flight mode. I understand the rationale: electronic signals might effect the navigational instruments on planes. I wonder though: is this risk an actual risk or an imagined one? Have you ever heard of a plane crashing and the reason given by the aviation authority’s is that someone broke the rules and was playing with his iPhone? I know I haven’t and, given that I do spend time on planes regularly, I am sure I would have remembered it.

Is the slavish devotion by airlines to the "no devices" paradigm more to do with customer service than safety? If that were the rationale it would be two fold:

1. I can think of nothing worse than sitting next to someone speaking on the phone for 2 hours so the fact that there is no phone connectivity does have the ability to improve my experience.

2. If I am not connected then I, as a passenger, can not jump online to whinge in "real time" about the service I am receiving which has the effect of sanitising the flight experience.

Those rationales are all well and good but is it too much to ask that I have access to my email whilst I am in the air? I know there are airlines in the US who have rolled out limited wifi services (I have seen people I follow on my twitter feed wax lyrical about them) and wonder why we don’t have the same on the "nations carrier"? If cost is an impediment I would gladly pay more but I suspect it is not cost that is the issue. I return to the customer service imperative noted about and wonder if a keenness for a lack of "live" criticism is behind the lack of a move to in plane wifi?

I know we are only 7 years into the iPhone age of doing business but airlines seem to be way behind in servicing their clients needs when it comes to business travel: if they weren’t I would be posting this blog immediately rather than when I take my iPad off flight mode upon landing.

That fact raises another question for Australian business travellers: wouldn’t it be nice to have a high speed train to get on for business trips? Again: I know I would pay a premium to get on a train: I would avoid the need for taxis to and from airports for a start and I am sure that such a train would have zero impediments on cellular use. I know Qantas would never let that happen but it is nice to dream about.

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