U.S. airline passengers value in-flight Wi-Fi access more than meal service, free movies and other perks, according to a poll conducted by Wakefield Research...

U.S. airline passengers value in-flight Wi-Fi access more than meal service, free movies and other perks, according to a poll conducted by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance, which is a non-profit industry association devoted to the proliferation of Wi-Fi technology across devices and market segments.

According to the poll, conducted by Wakefield Research between August 11 and August 18 among 480 frequent business travelers aged 18 and older (including 150 frequent business travelers who have used in-flight Wi-Fi),  travelers stated they would be willing to make significant sacrifices or change travel plans to ensure Wi-Fi access while in the air.

Altogether, 76 per cent said they would choose an airline based on the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi; 55 per cent would shift their flight by one day if it meant having in-flight Wi-Fi; and 71 per cent would opt for a flight with Wi-Fi access over one that provided meal service.

“Business and leisure travelers have long relied on Wi-Fi’s wide availability around the world to stay connected ― and that is becoming an expectation in the sky as well,” says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. “We are excited to see numerous airlines offering in-flight Wi-Fi to passengers, and expect Wi-Fi will soon be as commonplace in planes as it is today in homes, businesses, and public areas.”

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the poll also shows that business travelers view in-flight Wi-Fi as an important tool to manage their workload. Among those surveyed, 40 per cent said they view work-related travel as stressful and 64 per cent said they feel “on the clock” when they are traveling for work. The poll found 50 per cent of business travelers frequently take a “red-eye” flight because they must be reachable during business hours. However, 82 per cent said in-flight Wi-Fi would help them stay on top of projects.

Among business travelers who have not yet used in-flight Wi-Fi, 87 per cent said they would check e-mail and 63 per cent would log on to work-related systems such as sales and reporting tools if Wi-Fi were available on a future flight. Of the same travelers, 95 per cent said Wi-Fi access would make them more productive.

“In-flight Wi-Fi will become a major productivity tool for business travelers, retention benefit for frequent flyer programs and a major revenue generator for the airlines, all during a downturn in the global economy,” says Berge Ayvazian, senior analyst for Yankee Group. “This survey demonstrates the pent-up demand for broadband Internet access in-flight and the wide range of potential business and personal applications.”

However, in-flight Wi-Fi use is not restricted to business purposes, says the alliance: Travelers are taking advantage of it for leisure activities as well. Among survey respondents who have used in-flight Wi-Fi, 72 per cent use it to check personal email; 49 per cent browse the web; 35 per cent stream videos or music; 28 per cent shop online; 25 per cent play online video games and 22 per cent use social networking applications.

For the interviews conducted in the study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.47 percentage points, according to Wakefield Research.