The Wi-Fi-in-the-Sky Wars
Travel Blog • Rob Verger • 05.15.09 | 10:46 AM ET
AirTran fired off a powerful volley this week in the competition between airlines to provide wireless internet access on flights. It kicked the service off with a flight on Tuesday, and says that all 136 of its planes will have Wi-Fi by the end of July, making it, as USA Today reports, “the first large U.S. airline to offer wireless Internet access on every flight nationwide.”
As Ben Mutzabaugh put it in another story in the same paper, “AirTran’s promotional flight points up how fast airlines are racing to provide Wi-Fi capability on their planes after experimenting with it for more than a year.”
American Airlines and Delta are also outfitting their fleets with Wi-Fi capability; United plans to start equipping their planes “later this year,” according to USA Today.
Here’s a quick look at the status of some other airlines that are doing so:
- Virgin America has already equipped 24 of its 28 planes with Wi-Fi. The airline says the entire fleet will be equipped by May 25; when that happens, it will be the first U.S. carrier to offer internet access on every flight.
- Southwest Airlines is in the testing phase and currently has four of its 539 airplanes, all Boeing 737s, equipped with Wi-Fi. It is offering the service free of charge for now on those aircraft, and plans to expand what it offers soon. The carrier has been Twittering and notifying customers via email about which flights will have Wi-Fi.
- Alaska Airlines is currently testing its service on one aircraft, and has also been Twittering about which flights will offer Wi-Fi.
- JetBlue also currently has one plane, an A320 called Beta Blue, equipped with a free service that allows passengers to check email or browse a special version of Amazon.com, but does not allow for general web browsing. They plan on expanding this service to 20 more planes, and keeping the service free.
I can’t wait for all of these plans to move forward, and in my ideal world, most if not all flights would offer Wi-Fi. Of course, it would be great if it were always free, too, but as unbundling and a la carte pricing trends go, I don’t see that happening. (A good example of pricing for this is from Virgin America, which will charge $12.95 for daytime flights that are longer than three hours. Shorter flights, red-eye flights, and using handheld devices will cost less.)
And speaking of wireless communication from high above the Earth: Has anyone else been following @Astro_Mike on Twitter? Mike Massimino, an astronaut on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is currently servicing the Hubble telescope, is Twittering from space. Here’s his last update: “From orbit: Rendezvous and grapple were great, getting ready for our first spacewalk[.]”