Qantas customer experience improves thanks to in-flight Wi-Fi

Qantas has partially attributed its improvement in customer experience scores to the addition of Wi-Fi to its domestic fleet, while the airline said it is continually investing in 'cyber transformation initiatives'.

Qantas has revealed that more than half of its Boeing 737 domestic fleet has now been equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi while the rollout of the service across its Airbus A330 aircraft is now under way, with its entertainment Net Promoter Score increasing during FY18 due to the offering.

"These numbers show a company that's delivering across the board," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said during the company's full-year financial results report on Thursday.

"Our investment in free Wi-Fi and cabin improvements are delivering a better experience for customers as well as higher earnings for Qantas and Jetstar."

According to the Australian airline, its total unit cost increased by 2.7 percent during the year due to the addition of in-flight Wi-Fi as well as higher fuel prices. Net capex of AU$1.97 billion also included the installation of Wi-Fi on domestic aircraft, alongside the purchase of 787-9 Dreamliners and lounge upgrades.

Overall, Qantas reported statutory net profit of AU$980 million, up from AU$853 million a year earlier, on revenue of AU$17.1 billion, up 6.2 percent from AU$16.1 million last year.

Passenger revenue was AU$14.7 billion and freight revenue AU$862 million, with Qantas Domestic bringing in AU$5.97 billion, up from AU$5.6 billion; Qantas International AU$6.89 billion, up from AU$6.4 billion; Qantas Loyalty AU$1.55 billion, up from AU$1.5 billion; and Jetstar Group AU$3.8 billion, up from AU$3.6 billion.

Qantas had last month revealed that some of its international passengers would be trialling biometric technology at Sydney Airport, with the first phase using facial recognition for automated flight check-in and bag drop, lounge access, and plane boarding.

The next stages will include mobile check-in and automated border processing via facial recognition.

"There is an increasing need for airlines and airports to offer faster and more convenient airport experiences and we're excited to see what results the trial produces," Qantas chief customer officer Vanessa Hudson said.

Sydney Airport said consent is actively sought from all passengers and the "strictest level of privacy" is adhered to on behalf of those participating in the trial.

Qantas labelled cybersecurity and data governance as one of its biggest risks in the full-year financial results report, as the threats are "continuously evolving".

"Qantas remains focused on further strengthening its governance, processes, and technology controls to continue to protect the integrity and privacy of data and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements," the airline said.

"The Qantas group's ongoing investment in cyber transformation initiatives, together with its extensive control and risk framework, operate to reduce the likelihood of cybersecurity and data privacy incidents, assisting with the early detection and mitigation of impact. Given the nature of this risk, the appropriateness of the controls is continuously reviewed by the group Cyber and Privacy Committee and is subject to independent assurance on a periodic basis."

Qantas had in February revealed that is was rolling out Wi-Fi to its domestic fleet at a rate of around one aircraft per week, with the majority to be complete by the end of 2018.

At the time, Qantas said it had 22 Boeing 737 planes kitted out with the connectivity technology, or more than 30 percent of its 737-800 fleet, with Joyce partially attributing the "record" Qantas Domestic first-half financial results to the in-flight Wi-Fi program.

Qantas announced a six-month statutory profit after tax of AU$607 million, up 17.9 percent year on year, on revenue of AU$8.66 billion, up 5.8 percent.

Qantas announced an acceleration of its in-flight Wi-Fi rollout across its domestic Airbus 330 and Boeing 737 aircraft last August, following the completion of its trial along with regulatory approval for the service, further revealing that it is "waiting for an improved technology that will allow fast Wi-Fi for our international routes".

The airline commercially launched its free in-flight Wi-Fi in beta mode on-board its Boeing 737 VH-XZB aircraft that travels between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane in April 2017, with a series of live tests during its first flight seeing speeds between 2.57Mbps and 7.24Mbps download and 0.26Mbps and 0.61Mbps upload.

During initial testing in February, Qantas had connected 140 passengers with an average of 1.6 devices each to the Wi-Fi system at download speeds of between 7Mbps and 12Mbps.

Originally, Qantas was aiming to enable access speeds of up to 20Mbps per passenger, with satellite communications service provider ViaSat looking to provide a service-level guarantee to Qantas of 12Mbps at all times throughout the flight once the service leaves beta mode.

Qantas first partnered with ViaSat to deliver the Wi-Fi service using Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) Sky Muster satellite service in February 2016. The service makes use of idle satellite capacity as the aircraft travels through Sky Muster's 101 Ka-band spot beams.

A satellite antenna will be mounted on top of each aircraft by Qantas engineers, along with several wireless access points, resulting in similar signal strength for all passengers no matter where they are seated on the plane.

Qantas last year also developed an app with GE to cut carbon emissions and announced kitting out a second domestic 737 aircraft with new Wi-Fi technology from ViaSat ahead of eight more gaining the equipment by the end of September 2017. ViaSat's new equipment is tipped to provide faster speeds and more reliable connections.

Around 80 Boeing 737 and Airbus 330 aircraft are expected to be fitted out with the service by late 2018. Once the rollout is complete, around 15 million customers per year will experience the free on-board Wi-Fi.

Qantas also partnered with Foxtel, Stan, Netflix, and Spotify to allow customers to stream content for free while in-flight.

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