Internet on Airplanes: Surf and Fly at the Same Time
Personally, I don't really care if I have to wait a few hours to check my Facebook feed, but maybe that's just me.
In-flight Internet access is finally taking off in the United States.
Starting next week and over the next few months, several airlines will begin taking the first steps toward offering Internet service on their planes.
On Tuesday, JetBlue Airways will begin offering a free e-mail and instant messaging service on one of its aircraft, while American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a broader Web experience in the coming months.
“I think 2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available, but I suspect the rollout domestically will take place in a very measured way,” said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forrester Research. “In a few years time, if you get on a flight that doesn’t have Internet access, it will be like walking into a hotel room that doesn’t have TV.”
During JetBlue’s initial trial, which will involve a single aircraft, passengers traveling with Wi-Fi equipped laptops will be able to access Yahoo e-mail accounts and Yahoo’s Messenger service, while those with Wi-Fi enabled BlackBerrys will be able to download their e-mail.
But if a test flight held this week is any indication of the challenges airlines and their technology partners face in trying to offer connectivity at 35,000 feet and 500 miles an hour, travelers can initially expect an experience reminiscent of the days of dial-up access — slower and more prone to glitches than a typical connection on the ground.
“Sometimes you just have to put things out there and see what happens when people try to use it,” said Nate Quigley, chief executive of LiveTV, a JetBlue subsidiary responsible for the airline’s Internet service as well as its in-flight entertainment system. “We’ll find the bugs and eventually get them worked out.”
JetBlue does not plan to charge for the service, while the other airlines and their technology partners are discussing fees of about $10 a flight.