In-flight Internet cleared for take-off

In-flight Internet cleared for take-off

Summary: I've been skeptical of plans for in-flight broadband. But it may finally happen. In the past few months several U.S airlines--Alaska Air, American Airlines, Continental, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America--have announced plans to offer Internet access.


I've been skeptical of plans for in-flight broadband access. Let's face it, the airlines don't have a great track record here. No one used those sad phones in the seatbacks. And Boeing's Connexion service--once offered by a few international carriers--is gone. But this time it may finally happen.

In the past few months several U.S airlines--Alaska Air, American Airlines, Continental, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America--have announced plans to offer Internet access on some routes. Why now? The equipment is cheaper and easier to install, business and leisure travelers are asking for it, and the Open Skies rules, which are about to go into effect, will suddenly give U.S. airlines more competition. Each airline is taking a different approach to the technology, features and pricing.

Aircell GoGo

American Airlines and Virgin America will both offer Aircell's gogo service, a cellular system that uses a version of EV-DO Rev A to deliver broadband speeds of 2Mbps on flights over North America. Aircell says the basic pricing will be about $12.95 for cross-country trips and $9.95 for flights lasting three hours or less. Starting this spring, American will outfit 15 of its Boeing 767s for gogo. It plans to target business travelers with laptops on popular routes between New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami. Virgin America is taking a different approach. It hopes to offer gogo on all flights and for all passengers via the entertainment system in the seatbacks. No laptop required.

JetBlue already offers free Internet access, but it is only a "BetaBlue" trial on a single Airbus A320. You can use Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Messenger, and check corporate e-mail if you happen to use a BlackBerry with Wi-Fi such as the BlackBerry Curve 8820 or Curve 8320. But that's about it--at least for now. And it only works over the continental U.S. Provided by JetBlue's LiveTV subsidiary, the service is also a cellular system built on some of the same spectrum as those lonely Airfones. Continental will also use LiveTV to offer satellite TV and Internet access on domestic flights beginning in early 2009. Some LiveTV services are also available on WestJet, Frontier, Virgin Blue and AirTran.

JetBlue LiveTV

Finally, there's Row 44. Like Boeing's Connexion, Row 44 is a satellite service that should also work over oceans and on international flights, though the company is focused first on North America. Alaska Airlines will start trials using Row 44's service on some flights as early as the second quarter of 2008. And in January Southwest said it would test Internet access with Row 44 on four Boeing 737s starting this summer.

Of course there are still a few hurdles. Because electronic devices can interfere with flight equipment, many regulatory agencies still prohibit voice or data communications while aloft. Technology can solve that problem.

Another big concern: Passengers can use VoIP clients such as Skype to make calls, disrupting their neighbors. American and Alaska Air recently told The New York Times that they will block VoIP calls, but Virgin America isn't ruling it out, and international carriers such as Air France are already experimenting with mobile phone use during flights. Some frequent fliers are adamantly opposed to this, but I'd gladly deal with the occasional voice call in exchange for decent broadband access at 30,000 feet.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

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  • Re: No one used those sad phones in the seatbacks...

    That's because they priced them out of the market. If the airlines had not done so, they may have gotten much more use.

    The one cost cited in the article ($10 for many flights) is much more reasonable - and may see more use.
    Basic Logic
  • RE: In-flight Internet cleared for take-off

    Instead of taking shots at the Airfone service that started in the 80's. It would be nice to see some reports give it credit for creating this service.

    Had Verizon decided to win the FCC auction that Aircell won, the Airfone internet (using Wi-Fi) service would have been on 100's of aircraft by now.

    Verizon Airfone wanted to drop those seatback phones too. The increased cellphone usage is what really killed the service. Think back in the early 90's when there were banks of payphones at the airport.
  • RE: In-flight Internet cleared for take-off

    I would enjoy internet access while flying, and I have just short of 2 million miles on American, but any kind of phone calls on a flight would be awful. I don;t think it would be and occasional short call in the seat next to you but more like what you see while driving, that is close to 50% of the laptop users would be on the phone at any one time.
  • Sounds great

    I've long waited for this, nothing like a long cross country flight where your only option is to read a book or sleep in awkward painstaking positions ..yeah, you wake up feeling all sorts of pain on those flights haha. Finally something to bring a little more enjoyment to those flights, the internet is by now pretty much a part of everyone's lives these days and no doubt if the price is right internet onboard will be very popular. Oh, and people would I'm sure love to use those onboard phones but the airlines price them at $20/min or so I'm betting to strongly discourage the use of the phones for anything but emergencies since many passengers would consider onboard phone usage a nuisance.

    - John Musbach
    John Musbach
  • RE: In-flight Internet cleared for take-off

    Ugh. People making annoying phone calls will probably become the next "screaming baby". I love the internet... and yet it's almost nice to have this one last refuge, but I knew it couldn't last forever.
  • occasional voice call ???

    are you crazy? what drugs are you doing... pls share.

    Seriously, this will end up driving internet usage more than anything. There will be loud obnoxious voice calls all over the place... my mind is reeling at the possibility.

    I have a little theorem about human beings and obnoxiousness: "The amount of obnoxiousness a human being exhibits is 1000x times the perceived possibility of obnoxiousness in any given situation."

    i better invest in some bose quiet comforts before the price goes up even higher once these "occasional voice calls" begin....