ATLANTA — Steve Parker, sitting in the atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last week, was about to dig into his bag for a hot spot device when he noticed a poster nearby.
“Wi-Fi Before You Fly. Now Free,” it announced.
Saving a speck of time and trouble, Parker tapped directly into the service offered by the airport, where fliers without their own Wi-Fi alternative had paid $4.95 per day.
Minutes later, Parker, a contractor in the military industry from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, declared the newly unveiled system “perfect — easy and painless.”
- Turkey’s president, Putin hurl insults after plane downed
- Teen, one of 14 siblings, finally gets to be a kid
- Seattle sushi fans, rejoice: Shiro's new place is open
- UW fires women’s crew coach Bob Ernst
- 2015 Apple Cup might be the start of something big for UW Huskies, WSU Cougars
Most Read Stories
“All airports should do this,” he said.
Not all do, but the roll call of free arrangements — entirely at some airports, in combination with premium-paid levels at others — is growing, both domestically and abroad. As airlines tack on fees for ever-fading courtesies, from checked baggage to advance seat selection, airports are headed in the opposite philosophical direction when it comes to Wi-Fi.
Of the nation’s 30 busiest airports, 12 offer all-free Internet, up from nine in 2007, according to Boingo Wireless, a leading provider of airport wireless services. A dozen others opt for a tiered plan, with some free access. The shift is also playing out at smaller locations, where the financial and operational challenges are less daunting.
For much of society, free Wi-Fi has evolved into a something of a right, and the trend at airports is to treat it as an amenity no different from water fountains, trams and Muzak.
Hartsfield-Jackson’s general manager, Miguel Southwell, says an airport’s purpose extends beyond transporting sky-minded passengers to “being a catalyst for economic development.” A pleasant experience for travelers, which can include free Wi-Fi, could spawn fresh or expanded businesses.
“We want to exceed customer expectations,” Southwell said.
The fee-based format generated waves of dissatisfaction. Consumer surveys found that a third of Hartsfield-Jackson’s travelers identified the absence of free Wi-Fi as their primary complaint by a wide margin.
The switch comes at a steep initial price. Gone is $1.5 million in annual revenue from the pay service, along with $5.6 million appropriated by the Atlanta City Council to cover the design, equipment and installation.
Mayor Kasim Reed, who trumpeted the changeover at a news conference staged within a few paces of Parker and others hunched over their portable computers, voiced confidence that some lost revenue would be recouped through more spending at airport establishments.