Lonely Planet Writer

In-flight meals or internet? Survey says more than half of airline passengers prefer Wi-Fi

What would most people prefer to help get through a flight? An in-flight internet connection or an in-flight meal? More than half of respondents in a new survey say they would pick the internet, perhaps because you can always just pack a sandwich in your carry-on.

Business colleagues using technology in airplane.
Would you prefer food or an internet connection on your next flight? Image by HeroImages/Getty Images

Almost all passengers (92%) would like to have on-board connectivity in general, according to a survey of airline customers by Inmarsat, a global mobile satellite communications service, and GfK. If it comes to a choice between food or internet access, 54% would pick the connection.

The survey respondents included 9000 people from 27 countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Central and South America who have carried at least on personal device on a flight in the past year.

Most travellers (83%) choose their airline based on whether they can stay connected to apps, email and video-streaming services with an in-flight internet service. Additionally, passengers are willing to pay to get a good connection. In fact, reliability of the connection was most important to travellers, with 75% saying it was a key factor in whether they would connect to the service, while speed was a priority for 19%. One in 10 respondents who said they had tried on-board internet had been unable to properly connect.

While long-haul flights mean having a lot more time to fill, the length of the flights generally doesn’t correspond with an increased demand for Wi-Fi. People were equally willing to pay for internet whether they were flying a short distance (64%), a medium distance (68%) or a long distance (69%).

Having connectivity is so important that most survey respondents said they would prefer to connect to the internet in the journey instead of getting a meal, accessing in-flight entertainment or duty-free shopping. It’s a demand that airlines may need to start responding to, as 78% of passengers expect to see internet replace in-flight entertainment systems in the next five to ten years.