Memphis Airport to Introduce Free Wi-Fi

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Soon, passengers at Memphis International Airport will be able to surf the Web for free as they wait for flights.

Memphis International Airport will bring free Wi-Fi to the airport after awarding a contract to Boingo Wireless for the service.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority awarded a contract to Los Angeles-based Boingo Wireless to provide Wi-Fi coverage throughout the airport, including the terminals, baggage claim areas and rental car customer service area in the ground transportation center.

Boingo Wi-Fi connectivity will be free for customers who want to surf the Internet, but heavy data users and those who want faster service will need to pay extra.

Internet connectivity already is available at Memphis International Airport, but passengers have to pay for service. Airport authority officials said they expect to roll out free service by the end of the year.

The addition of free Wi-Fi service is part of a long-standing effort to improve the airport’s public image and customer service experience amid public outrage over high airfares and fewer flights.

The most recent challenge came in early June, when Delta Air Lines announced it would slash more Memphis flights, eliminate 230 jobs and eliminate its Memphis hub. Airport authority officials and board members have been bracing for the cuts, which begin Sept. 3, right after the busy Labor Day weekend.

The free Wi-Fi service is a good “barometer of an airport that is customer-friendly,” Jack Sammons, the Airport Authority’s chairman, said at the Thursday, July 18, monthly board of commissioners meeting.

Sammons, who is a frequent flier himself, said the free Wi-Fi service will be an asset to travelers and sends a signal to the community that the board is listening and trying to be responsive to their demands.

For the seven-year contract, Boingo will pay the airport authority either 40 percent of gross revenue or a minimum annual guarantee of $80,000, depending on whichever is greater. The contract is eligible for three additional renewal period of one year each.

Regional hubs like Memphis have declined in recent years as airlines have made the switch from smaller regional jets – which are less fuel efficient – to larger planes that fly in and out of bigger hubs.

Network airlines have shifted from a strategy focused on operating as many flights as possible in an attempt to gain market share, to filling airplane seats and building more efficient networks. That shift has reversed low profit margins and losses, at the expense of service options and routes at most U.S. airports, including Memphis.

Members of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board are well aware of the challenges. In recent months, board members and airport officials have focused on wooing discount carriers like Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., which has agreed to enter the Memphis market Nov. 3.

Total passenger activity slumped 33 percent to 430,546 passengers in June, compared with 643,687 passengers a year earlier. Scheduled flights also declined 26.8 percent to 134, compared with 183 last year.

Total flights from Delta and its airline partners fell to 95 scheduled flights in June, compared with 145 scheduled during the same year-earlier period.

As Delta began paring flights, total origination and destination traffic exceeded connecting flights for the first time in September 2012.

For the fiscal year, the 12 months ended June 30, 2013, total passenger traffic dropped 29.3 percent to 5.6 million passengers, compared with 7.9 million passengers during the airport’s previous fiscal year.

Cargo continued to buoy revenue for Memphis International, the world’s second-busiest cargo facility behind Hong Kong.

Memphis handled 753.8 million pounds in June, up 0.9 percent from 747.1 million pounds a year earlier.

For the 12-month period ended June 30, Memphis International handled 8.97 billion pounds of cargo. That’s up 2.2 percent compared with 8.78 billion pounds of handled cargo during the same period a year earlier.

In other airport authority news, Scott Brockman, the authority’s chief operating officer, was awarded the American Association of Airport Executives 2013 Distinguished Service Award.