SWISS’ new Boeing 777-300ERs, the first of which are now in regular service on the airline’s intercontinental network, offer customers in all three seating classes a valuable in-flight extra: Internet connectivity. As of spring 2017, our guests will be able to benefit from this service to many other destinations, as SWISS will be gradually furnishing the entire Airbus A330 fleet with the new technology. SWISS travellers can surf or send e-mails on their laptop, tablet or smartphone device during their flight. SWISS is also currently trialling a new roaming telephone service under its Internet on Board programme. “In-flight connectivity is something customers clearly want,” says Anna Rothholz of the SWISS Customer Connectivity team. “So, while this feature is still largely in its infancy at many airlines, we decided to offer it from the outset with our new fleet flagship, the Boeing 777.” Anna’s colleague Falko Leonhardt is clear about the goal here, too: “Ultimately, we want all our SWISS aircraft to offer our guests and our crews the kind of end-to-end connectivity that they’ve long enjoyed on the ground.”
Before that vision becomes a reality, there are still a number of issues to resolve. The challenges are substantial, the field is evolving fast, and much of the current work is being done on essentially a greenfield site. “What we’re having at the moment are various technical discussions and clarifications,” says Andreas Bösch, who is responsible for eOperations Projects within the young and interdisciplinary Customer Connectivity team. “At SWISS, in contrast to other airlines, we’re putting a particular emphasis on the whole construct that we’re using on our Triple Sevens.”
The Customer Connectivity team’s work was correspondingly groundbreaking in the intensive ten-month lead-up period before the new feature was launched. “Once we’d compiled all our customers’ wishes and needs – with the help of market research – we had to basically develop the new product from scratch,” Falko Leonhardt explains. “We had totally free rein here, along with the valuable support of many other SWISS units. And in some areas we really were treading entirely new paths – which has made the whole undertaking very exciting to be involved in!”
After considering various approaches, the team ultimately decided to meet the evidently wide range of SWISS customers’ online needs aloft by offering three different data packages of varying prices. “We can’t provide in-flight Internet connectivity for free yet,” Falko Leonhardt explains. “So it was important to us to offer our customers a fairly priced product that also keeps our costs under control.”
The Customer Connectivity team have been keenly gathering the first feedback from the new service since it was introduced with SWISS’ Boeing 777 to enter service early this year. “The data packages have proved very popular,” says Anna Rothholz. “And the roaming telephone facility hasn’t prompted any complaints from passengers yet, either.” The Customer Connectivity team (which officially doesn’t even exist within the SWISS organisational structure!) still has a lot of work ahead of them, though. Simply keeping pace with the needs and the developments in the connectivity field is a challenge in itself. “It’s an area that will keep us all busy for a long time to come,” Falko Leonhardt is convinced. “But we’ll be tackling it all step by step, and with a firm focus on delivering the best end product for all.”
How does this work?
Internet connections may be almost a given today on the ground. But they’re far more complex to ensure at over 10,000 feet. SWISS’s Internet connectivity is provided via a chain of geostationary satellites dotted around the equator some 36,000 kilometres above the earth. The satellite connection is via an antenna on the aircraft’s fuselage. As the flight progresses, the aircraft sends its signals to the nearest satellite, which passes these on to the ground (or vice versa, of course). It’s the satellite connection that is the vital element in all this. And if an aircraft moves out of the range of one satellite, it will establish a new connection with the next one in the chain.