Qatar Airways has said it will overhaul its in-flight Wifi service later this week, using technology from local telecom firm Ooredoo that will be added to all aircraft in the carrier’s fleet by next year.
Currently, Qatar’s national airline offers Wifi on some planes using a service called OnAir, which has occasionally received mixed reviews by some travellers and does not support streaming video, according to its website.
Under the new service, passengers will be able to watch videos – as well as check email and surf the Internet – for free for the first 15 minutes.
After that, customers will pay $5 for the first hour and $10 for the next three hours. Alternatively, customers can pay $20 for unlimited Wifi for the entire flight, regardless of its duration.
“I’m known to be very stingy, so we cannot make everything (for) free all the time,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker joked at a press conference earlier today to announce Ooredoo as Qatar Airways’ exclusive Wifi provider for the next three years.
Starting on National Day, Dec. 18, the service will be activated on 65 planes in the carrier’s fleet, including all its A319s, A350s, A380s and Boeing 787s, as well as some of its A320 and A330 aircraft.
It will be expanded to all of Qatar’s Airways’ 173 planes by June 2016, officials said, adding that the service can be accessed using laptops, tablets, smartphones and other Wifi enabled devices.
The additional service comes at the start of what is traditionally one of the peak travelling seasons for Qatar residents as school terms end and some expats travel home for Christmas.
“Ahead of the busy holiday period, we hope all the passengers are able to experience the added comfort and convenience in this added venture,” Al Baker said.
Last year, Qatar Airways applied to the country’s telecommunications regulator for a licence to operate inflight internet and mobile phone services. At the time, ictQatar said provision of telecom services onboard Qatar Airways aircraft must adhere to the country’s telecom law, because that’s where the planes are registered.
Other airlines have used inflight networks as an opportunity to scrap the seatback entertainment systems that are common on many planes.
Lufthansa, for example, encourages passengers to download an app while they’re waiting in departure areas so they can then watch streaming videos on their own devices while on some medium-haul routes.
Al Baker has previously suggested that something similar may be in the future for Qatar Airways.
Speaking at the IATA World Passenger Symposium last month in Hamburg, Al Baker said he believed that seatback in-flight entertainment units would be replaced with personal devices within “five, six, seven years,” Arabian Business reported.
In addition to saving the airline money on purchasing and maintaining the devices, scrapping the seatback units would also reduce the weight of the aircraft.
Speaking to Doha News today, a Qatar Airways spokesperson suggested such a move would not be implemented in the near future and noted that the carrier increased its library of movies and TV shows from 950 titles to 2,000 several months ago.
Separately, a spokesperson said the airline was still expecting to receive its first A320neo plane by the end of this month. However, Qatar Airways was not able to say whether it would be the first carrier to fly the plane commercially.
Late last week, Reuters reported that Lufthansa would be the launch operator after Qatar Airways voiced uncertainty over the technical performance of its Pratt & Whitney engines.
The new engines help reduce the A320neo’s fuel consumption by approximately 15 percent, according to manufacturer Airbus.