Here is a new word to add to your dictionary of aviation slang: radome. A radome is a hump in the roof of the newest aircraft. Within it are antennae which receive and transmit to satellites, which in turn relay information down to ground stations. Inside the aircraft, the hump feeds a series of modems in the cabins that enable passengers to connect to the internet. New satellite systems are quicker and more reliable, and Wi-Fi on planes is being rolled out across Cathay Pacific.
Simon Cuthbert is Cathay Pacific’s Customer Experience Manager, Entertainment, Platforms and Connectivity. He says: ‘By the end of this month, we will have up to 45 aircraft that offer inflight Wi-Fi, which is about a quarter of the passenger fleet. The aim is that all of our widebody aircraft will offer connectivity by the end of 2021.’
The new Airbus A350 aircraft is automatically fitted with the necessary technology for Wi-Fi on planes at the factory – around 30 have joined the fleet so far – while the Boeing 777 fleet gets updated when the aircraft go into maintenance hangars for the upgraded Economy cabins. Around 15 of these aircraft have been equipped, with plans for the Airbus A330 fleet to start getting connected from the second half of this year.
The A350s operate equipment from Panasonic, while the 777s offer Gogo. ‘With Gogo you can even use live chat with their help desk to retrieve passwords or handle other technical issues while you’re onboard, which can really help connect passengers who get stuck,’ says Cuthbert.
The Panasonic equipment on the A350s means the planes can offer live news, in addition to the other on demand programmes, music and games. Cuthbert adds: ‘Both systems are working well and feedback from passengers is very positive. We have also seen improvements on the A350 fleet as more high-capacity satellites come online.’
Both systems offer a fast, reliable service, but there are still some coverage blackspots. Cuthbert says: ‘There is no service over the pole, as, apart from a few planes, there are very few people there needing connectivity. So that affects flights to North America.’
Passengers flying to the US and Canada might experience anywhere from no drop-out to four hours of lost service, depending on the destination and flight path. ‘Even with a small outage, customers can enjoy Wi-Fi with no data cap throughout their entire journey.’
This allows people to stay connected whether it be for work, social media or news. However, Cuthbert believes the IFE system remains the best place for watching movies and TV. ‘Streaming sites usually have quite different movies and TV compared with IFE. In some cases, we have theatrical movies even before they have premiered locally in the cinema, as well as premium programmes from a range of networks such as HBO or the BBC,’ says Cuthbert.
One element of online life that is frowned upon is using apps to make voice calls. Many people shudder at the idea of fellow passengers bellowing, ‘I’m on the plane!’
‘We are trying to prevent people from doing that technically,’ says Cuthbert. ‘But we don’t want to limit Facebook Messenger or limit the speed of sending an image over WhatsApp. So we encourage people not to make internet calls. It’s not courteous to fellow passengers, especially on our new aircraft, as the cabins are so much quieter.’
Customers will probably find the greatest use of Wi-Fi on planes to be for accessing social media. And as the humps spread across the fleet over the next couple of years, no doubt the rate of onboard FOMO is set to decline.
Connect to Wi-Fi on planes by enabling Wi-Fi on your device, selecting the Cathay Pacific network and visiting the onboard portal wifi.cathaypacific.com to select your preferred subscription option.
Both systems offer their own version of a moving map. ‘It means you have access to a map without interrupting your film on the IFE,’ says Cuthbert.
Rebook or book
You will have access to cathaypacific.com, which is particularly useful if you’re worried about making tight connections. ‘If your flight was late departing because of disruption, you can go on the website and rebook, or go to CX Holidays and book a hotel – a useful lifeline,’ says Cuthbert. ‘It’s the same with car hire and travel insurance through the Cathay Pacific website.’