This growing expectation that IFEC will be offered, combined with an increasing number of aircraft fitted with IFEC capabilities, and the ability of airlines to monetize IFEC service, is making this form of in-flight service more and more important to the global airline industry. As of 2017, there were around 7,400 aircraft worldwide with Wi-Fi capabilities, the majority of which were in the United States. This number is expected to triple by 2027, both as the global airline fleet grows, and as other regions catch up. Combined with the capacity for further monetization, the revenue generated by in-flight connectivity is expected to grow from 1.5 billion U.S. dollars to 8.7 billion U.S. dollars over this period.
With the increasing prevalence of in-flight Wi-Fi, previous forms of in-flight entertainment are starting to be replaced by streaming services to passengers’ personal electronic devices. As of 2017, more than half of U.S. airlines were offering in-flight entertainment through streaming services – more than the number of airlines using portable, overhead and seatback solutions combined. However, just under half of passengers worldwide still prefer seatback solutions, compared to around one third who would rather stream content to their personal portable device (for example smartphones, tablets and laptop computers).
Despite the increasing importance of IFEC, the airline catering market remains dominant within the in-flight services sector. As of 2018, the global airline catering market was worth 18.8 billion U.S. dollars, a figure expected to grow to 28 billion U.S. dollars by 2026. The two largest providers of airline catering are Gategroup and LSG Group, both of which are far larger any of their nearby competitors. Together they accounted for around 44 percent of the global market in 2016.