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Hotel guests crave free Wi-Fi

Also: American Airlines is upgrading its planes. And many fliers support having a separate section for families with children.

September 06, 2010|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

A comfy mattress and a hot breakfast are still important to hotel guests, but free wireless Internet access is the most desired amenity, according to a new survey of 53,000 travelers.

The survey by J.D. Power & Associates found that free Wi-Fi was the most important for guests in nearly every segment of the hotel industry, from luxury hotels to budget lodging.

As most travelers know, not every hotel offers free Wi-Fi. In fact, the survey found that the most expensive hotels were the least likely to offer it free of charge.

Of guests staying at mid-scale hotels, 96% said they got free Wi-Fi, as did 64% of guests at budget hotels, according to the survey of guests who stayed in hotels from May 2009 to June 2010. None who stayed in luxury hotels said they got free wireless Internet.

Hotels are likely to feel more pressure to offer the service free of charge, said Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power. He noted that travelers can now get free Wi-Fi from many businesses, including Starbucks coffee shops and McDonald's restaurants.

At the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain, the fee for Wi-Fi access is a top complaint among guests, said Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Vivian A. Deuschl. (The new Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles charges $12.95 a day.)

"We know that it is an irritant to guests to have to pay for Internet access," she said. "It comes up very frequently."

Although some Ritz-Carlton hotels offer free Internet access in the lobbies and other public spaces, the hotel chain based in Maryland will continue to charge for the service in guest rooms, she said.

"We have no immediate plans to change the policy, but it's an ongoing subject of discussion," Deuschl said.

• American Airlines is upgrading its planes

American Airlines, owner of the nation's largest fleet of MD-80s, is moving to replace its 250 or so aging McDonnell Douglas aircraft with more efficient and roomy Boeing 737-800s.

The upgrade began last year and is expected to be completed by next year.

The new Boeing planes burn 20% to 30% less fuel and can seat about 20 more passengers than the MD-80, depending on the seating configuration.

American Airlines also announced a few months ago that it had hired Boeing to retrofit its existing fleet of 737s to include all the amenities in the newer 737-800.

The upgraded planes include economy seats that have a higher reclining pivot point, offering more knee room even when the passenger in front of you reclines. The cabin will also include several electrical outlets and drop-down 10.4-inch LCD monitors to watch movies and TV shows.

The overhead bins have been redesigned to nearly double the storage space.

Despite the added bin space, American Airlines spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said, the air carrier will continue to impose the same limits on carry-on bags mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We are trying to make the travel experience the best for our passengers," Wallace said. "But we will continue to follow FAA guidelines."

• Keep children away from other passengers?

Even with roomier, more comfortable cabins, an airline flight can be a hair-pulling experience if you get seated next to a fidgeting child or a screaming infant.

That may explain why nearly 80% of respondents said they support the idea of creating a "family-only" section on planes, according to a poll on Farecompare, a travel website.

The other 20% objected to the idea of separating parents and their children from other passengers, calling it a form of "family bashing."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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