Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

Summary: Would you pay for wireless Internet connectivity on a plane if it were available?Are there certain flights you would consider doing so (such as intercontinental) versus those you wouldn't (domestic)?


Would you pay for wireless Internet connectivity on a plane if it were available?

Are there certain flights you would consider doing so (such as intercontinental) versus those you wouldn't (domestic)?

A neat article by Joe Sharkey in the New York Times today details the trend of airlines rushing head over heels to offer Wi-Fi Internet connections in domestic aircraft cabins at the expense of -- you guessed it -- your hard-earned cash and, more notably, space.

Sharkey describes a recent AirTran Airways Wi-Fi demonstration flight from Baltimore-Washington up and down the Eastern Seaboard:

The Internet worked just fine. The problem was actually being able to use it efficiently. My laptop was wedged onto a tray table in the cramped space of a coach seat. I had to slide down in my seat just to read the screen.

“I have the same experience,” said Jack W. Blumenstein, the chief executive of Aircell, the company that is providing nearly all of the Wi-Fi installations so far for domestic carriers. “The laptop’s at an angle or it’s propped up almost on my nose.”

“Or I’m typing like this,” Mr. Blumenstein said from his own coach seat on the flight. He slouched down, raised both hands and wriggled his fingers like someone scratching on a window.

The low-cost AirTran announced last week that it would be installing Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service on its fleet by midsummer, making it the first domestic carrier to offer Wi-Fi on its entire fleet.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United, Virgin America and Air Canada are all installing in-flight Wi-Fi systems, all but Delta using Aircell's Gogo system, which depends on land-based cellular towers and can't be used on overseas flights.

The problem, as previously mentioned, is twofold: First, that the in-flight experience is hardly accomodating for passengers toting laptops, including a lack of electrical outlets, physical issues such as those described above and price.

AirTran, for example, is charging $9.95 for flights under three hours and $12.95 for those over three hours. For smartphones, the price is $7.95 regardless of flight duration. Is there enough demand for that kind of price?

Would you pay $10 for Wi-Fi from Chicago to New York? How about $13 for New York to San Francisco?

It's a tough question. Sure, $10 or $13 isn't much on the face of it, but if you're being nickel-and-dimed all the way down the runway -- pillow? Five dollars. Headphones? Five dollars. Movie? Five dollars. Peanuts? Two dollars. Stiff drink to make you forget the experience? Ten dollars -- you might just deem Wi-Fi not worth the headaches.

This is not just a question of price, of course. This is also a question of our human inclination to activity on domestic flights. Whether for business or pleasure, if you can get important work done elsewhere -- home, the airport, your hotel -- would you prefer to get a little shut-eye or read your Kindle instead of cracking open the ultimate distraction: the web?

According to the Times article, the Gogo service costs an average of about $100,000 a plane to install, and "Usage has exceeded expectations," an Aircell spokesperson said. And I'm sure most tech-inclined people agree with me that Internet connectivity should at least be available on flights.

But it makes me wonder if I'd rather just read a book on the flight to Tampa than risk more eye and back strain peering at my netbook or my BlackBerry for two hours, for that price. Decisions like this, of course, impact the viability of this business model.

What would you do?

Topics: Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Good luck looking at your blackberry..

    Last I was on a flight (mid 2008) the flight attendent said "Please discontinue the use of all portable electronic devices at this time" then when in the air "Approved electronics may be used at this time with exception of cellular devices [b]in any mode[/b]" well hell- there goes "airplane mode".

    Only devices I see being allowed is laptop/netbook type devices - and they are just too difficult to use in the seat.

    To further answer the question, maybe. If they included the ability to "add on" to my base fare- sure, I'll pay for it. If not, well kiss off - I'm not fumbling around in mid-flight with a credit card or other type of bill measure. Airlines should bundle these fees so people dont feel as raped - but that will never happen.
  • Nope, Just more legroom please

    And don't sit me next to the person with an eating disorder; I don't mean anorexia
    Alan Smithie
  • Free's not good enough

    The airlines should pay us to use Wi-Fi. And instead of a seat, they should give Wi-Fi users a fully sound-proofed bridal suite with full sensory surround sound and HDTV. And no brown M&Ms.
  • No, I will not pay

    more money for wifi access, especially for a 3 hour plane trip. I have already paid my fair, and have received lousy service, and been violated on my way through the gustopo. After all of that wifi should be free, or bundled into the airline ticket, so that I don't have to give my credit card to some stewardist. It is just like McDonalds who wants me to pay $10 for Wifi Access while I am there eating my food for 20 minutes. Screw that.

  • RE: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

    I don't think I'd use it, and I'd really like my co-passengers to not use it to make skype phone calls.

    It would really really stink to have a person next to me who thinks that the best way to resolve a bad connection is to TALK LOUDER.
    • can you

      HEAR ME NOW?!!

    • I would seriously hope that they would forbid VoIP..

      and other annoyances. Also requiring the use of headphones would probably be there as well - otherwise this would be an another annoyance to irritate other passengers. People already have very little consideration as it is - we dont need to give them another way to drive us nuts.

      I actually like sitting in the plane - free of all cell phones, text messaging, and annoying people yelling into their phones (or the annoying ringtones everyone thinks everyone around them enjoys *eye roll*)
  • RE: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

    Being able to play 4 hours of Warcraft while flying from PHX to DC would be awesome and definitely worth $12. I actually downsized my laptop from 17" to 12" for flying.
    • Just hope you dont do any instances..

      I would imagine the reliability would not be that high and expect a lot of server disconnects/timeouts. Though it may be a good time to level your professions :)
  • RE: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

    It will be interesting to see who else, besides airline companies, will benefit from in-flight WiFi. http://bit.ly/s8Vw3
  • Free is good

    If it were a business expense, it would be worth it. For casual browsing, I doubt I'd buy it. I enjoy connecting through Portland (PDX) and Indianapolis (IND) because they blanket free WiFi everywhere.

    Then there's the issue of using a laptop. Even my little 12" Latitude can get squashed by a seatback. That may no longer be an issue one day.

    (Disclaimer: A few years ago we patented this:
    http://www.stoel.com/webfiles/6392877.pdf as a means of being able to use a laptop in a depth-constrained environment. It's under evaluation.)
  • I would gladly pay for it, if only I could open and use my laptop in

    coach. It's an exercise in futility, there's just not enough room, especially if the person in front of me is reclined. I carry my laptop for use in my travels, but rarely try to use it inflight, so no wifi for me.
  • RE: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

    it is extremly appreciable that there is technological development to be able o conevt in the fliht but it is very expensive but when ther are more alternate options to keep going with the work it is unviable sometimes wifi can be ruled out if it is for entertainment
  • RE: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?)

    In Estonia, internet is like one of the human rights, it's like air - and the main point: it's free. all major cities are covered, It's free in restaurants, bars, lounges, gas-stations etc.

    In addition to those movie-pillows-etc examples, I wouldn't be surprised if americans would start asking ?$ for each gasp of air breathed in a their airplanes, unless you carry your own bottle of air with you (containing less then 100ml, for security reasons of course:D).

    Way to go.. home of liberty!

    PS! if you can't fly few hours fithout tweeting about it - your medical stuff shouldn't let you leave the institution anyway..