Qatar Airways is joining the push to free inflight Internet, with the Oneworld member and Virgin Australia partner, inking an agreement with Starlink – the communications satellite arm of Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture – to make WiFi in the sky available at no cost to every passenger.
It’s a step-change from Qatar Airways’ current WiFi arrangement, which charges all passengers – even those in its Qsuite business class – anywhere from US$10 for 100Mb of data to US$20 for a full flight or 200Mb, depending on the aircraft.
The Qatar-Starlink partnership promises to not only to ditch the price tag but boost the download speeds from 10Mbps on QR’s best Super WiFi service to true broadband rates above 100Mbps per passenger or device, based on early inflight tests of Starlink.
Indeed, if perhaps optimistically, Qatar Airways promises “once the service is active, passengers will be able to enjoy ultra-fast WiFi speeds of up to 350 Megabits per second.”
But as to when the service will be active, that’s not been revealed: the airline notes only that its “currently in the pre-launch phase of the rollout strategy across Qatar Airways’ fleet.”
Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s Vice President of Starlink Commercial Sales, adds that “with Starlink set to support the entire Qatar Airways fleet, passengers travelling between over 160 destinations around the world will be able to stay connected with the most advance high-speed internet service from space.”
Oddly, Qatar Airways calls out that Starlink will be “onboard specific aircraft and routes”; Executive Traveller has approached Qatar Airways for clarification, as well as confirmation on when the first QR Starlink flights are expected to take off, and will update this article on the airline’s response.
However, Executive Traveller understands Starlink’s aircraft dish isn’t listed to be approved for the bulk of jets in Qatar Airways’ fleet – including the Boeing 737, 777 and 787 and the Airbus A320 family – until sometime starting 2024.
That’s also when Hawaiian Airlines’ new Starlink-equipped Boeing 787 Dreamliners are due to take wing with Starlink.
Unlike conventional satellites which can be parked as high as 36,000km, Starlink satellites whizz around the planet at a ‘low Earth orbit’ of 550 km above the planet, making for faster signal turnaround or latency.
They’re also much smaller than regular satellites, so the Starlink network is a constellation of over 2,100 ‘micro-satellites’ which the planet in 90 to 120 minutes.