Browsing Tag: Wi-Fi

I only read the best stuff while on my flights. Taken just a few mintues ago.

I only read the best stuff while on my flights. Taken just a few minutes ago.

I am currently posting this from 36,239 feet on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Seattle (SEA).  The in-seat map tells me we are over Central Oregon.  Today I flew to San Fran and I’m now flying right back to Seattle to test out Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment system. I will post a full review of my experience on Monday, but while enjoying the Wi-Fi, I wanted to talk about it a little bit.

I am currently accessing the internet via GoGo and I don’t have to pay a dime. Virgin America, with Google, is offering free Wi-Fi on all their flights from now until January 15, 2010.  Delta Air Lines, with eBay, is providing free Wi-Fi for a week starting November 24th.

The free internet is not only for folks on an airplane.  Until January 15, 2010 Google will provide complimentary Wi-Fi in 47 airports across the country, including Las Vegas, Boston, Houston, Miami, and Seattle.

Seattle was supposed to be one of the 47 airports with free Wi-Fi. However, when I was there earlier today, I was excited to do some blogging while waiting for my flight to leave but it wasn’t free. Luckily I have an iPhone (airline and tech nerd) and found that there is a contract issue between AT&T (the current provider) and the airport.

Other airports got the Wi-Fi this Tuesday, but Seattle won’t be seeing it until November 18th. Every cloud has its silver lining; Seattle and Burbank airports will have free Wi-fi forever. I guess I will be ok with no Wi-Fi today for perpetually free Wi-Fi in a few days.

I am no stranger to technology and I fly quite a bit, but every time I have the access to the internet while flying, it feels magical. Some people say the magic of flying is gone but I disagree, it just depends on who you fly.

Internet is the future of airline travel. I feel that all airlines will have internet access in the near future. Once an airline cuts the Wi-Fi for landing, it is only a few minutes to re-connect on the 3G network and be connected once again. Awhile back, I talked about the possibility of having free Wi-Fi on airlines, but  Andrew Compart with Things with Wings came up with another possible change that Wi-Fi could cause.

He caught something interesting in the Google media release about the free Wi-Fi, “A recent study conducted by the Wi-Fi Alliance reported that 50% of business travelers take red-eye flights in order to be “reachable” during business hours, and an overwhelming 82% said that being connected through Wi-Fi would help solve that problem.”

He brings up a good question that with business travelers having access to Wi-Fi during their flights, will fewer take red eye flights? Will that affect an airline’s business flying at night? I hope not. For personal travel, I enjoy red-eyes since I am able to sleep and I want as much vacation time as possible.

A year ago, there was barely any Wi-Fi on any flights. Hopefully a year from now Wi-Fi will be so common that there’s nothing left to even write about.. I think I am going to wrap up now, time to play Doom for the rest of the flight back home!

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The sign outside of my first Wi-Fi flight back in May.

The sign outside of my first Wi-Fi flight back in May.

Yes! I am coming out and predicting that someday Wi-Fi will be free on at least some airlines. I am not talking first class or business class; I am talking about free Wi-Fi for the entire plane. Let me explain…

Southwest Airlines is the newest airline to announce adding Wi-Fi to their flights. Many other airlines already have some or all of their fleets wireless. It took the industry a long time to start becoming wireless, but now almost all US airlines have at least a few Wi-Fi equipped aircraft. The rapid growth shows capitalism at its best. When one airline has Wi-Fi, it provides an obvious advantage over those that do not. However, when almost all airlines in the United States have Wi-Fi, where does one airline stand out over another?

Think about long-distance on landlines (you remember those, right; where wires connected your phone calls?). It used to be mighty expensive to call based on time of day, then there were flat rates per minute, then you could just pay a monthly fee and call whenever and whomever you wanted. The same phenomenon happened with cell phones. Minutes used to be costly, now companies have plans with unlimited minutes, rollover minutes, etc. As competition grows, so do the benefits for the customer.

With Wi-Fi on the airlines, it is a bit more complicated; airlines don’t run the Wi-Fi, independent companies do. Some airlines like American, Delta, and AirTran are using Aircell’s GoGo tower-based Wi-Fi service, but Southwest is using Row44, which is a satellite-based system. Either way, Wi-Fi companies are competitive businesses that have to charge the airlines, so the airlines would need to absorb the costs to provide free Wi-Fi.

I know, with airlines charging fees for everything today, why would an airline ever be willing to absorb the costs? I think we are in a unique time. I don’t expect all these fees to be around forever (at least I hope not).  All it would take is one airline. One airline to announce they have free Wi-Fi. It might be years from now when this happens, and it might take  a few more years for other airlines to follow. However, this is how things have become cheaper and free in the past.  With so many airlines in the US, it is feasible that one might want to come across as a “high-tech”, “medium frills” airline.

Hopefully I am right in this one, but if I am not, I am still willing to pay $13 to access the internet on a flight!

Delta Air Lines's in-flight entertainment system

Delta Air Lines's in-flight entertainment system. AirlineReporter.com pic.

On a recent flight from Tampa, FL to Seattle, WA, I stopped and observed the other passengers on-board and what they were doing to entertain themselves. On each flight you normally can find the following:

* Sleepers: They don’t want overhead announcements, they don’t want food/drink service, they just want to sleep.
* iPodders: Just sit there listening to their iPod, sometimes with the occasional head-bob to the music.
* Readers: The flight provides a good opportunity to catch up on some reading.
* Talkers: Will talk to someone they know or spend the flight trying to make new friends.
* Laptoppers: Working on projects and now some on the internet.
* Gamers: With their mini-game systems or using their phones to play games.
* Thinkers: People that spend the time staring at their seat back thinking about who knows what.
* Movie Watchers: Will watch any movie being played by the airline.
* Seat back Players: Passengers who will use the airline’s in-flight entertainment to pass time.
* Combos: Tries to do as many of the different activities as possible before the flight ends.

Over the years, there has obviously been a shift. Years back, there would only be the readers, talkers, sleepers, and occasional movie watchers (if it was offered). Now airlines are providing many more options for flyers. From in-flight entertainment, to movies, to now having the internet, there are quite a few options.

It is not easy to fit a laptop on the tray to blog

It is not easy to fit a laptop on the tray to blog

I often wonder if the millions invested in in-flight entertainment is going to pay off. With so many hand-held gadgets available(iPod, iPhone, laptops, etc) and the addition of Wi-Fi on many airlines now, are flyers still going to be interested in using the airline’s content?

With a device hooked up to the internet, options are almost limitless and on par with entertainment options on the ground. Airlines are able to charge for internet and movies, but so far, power (which will be available on many more planes in the future) and the ability for a passenger to watch something on their own gadget, are free. As the line between phone, mp3 player and computer continues to blur, it seems less likely that passengers would have an interest in paying for limited content on airlines.

I don’t think the concept of in-flight entertainment provided by the airlines will die, but I think it needs to evolve with the times. Is it worth squinting at a small iPhone screen or dealing with a big laptop in front of me to access free entertainment? If airlines would be able to provide more than just TV and movie options (maybe provide the option to interact with other passengers or order food from their seats) could it sway users back to in-flight entertainment? With the addition of Wi-Fi, it would also be beneficial for airlines to integrate the internet into their in-flight systems and charge customers for using it.

However, is it worth it to airlines to pay to keep up with gadgets? In-flight entertainment systems do not come cheap. Airlines, having to foot the initial set-up cost to get airplanes retrofitted with the new technology,  still must pay to keep them updated, they pay for additional fuel burn from the weight, and they pay for licensing fees to show certain TV shows and movies. Is it worth it to put that much money into a system, when passengers can provide the technology themselves and airlines can charge for access to the internet, possibly rent movies onboard (either DVD or via network download), and maybe even charge for power usage?

Mark's Website

Mark's Website

That’s right! 24/7, comedian Mark Malkoff will be hanging out on an AirTran plane, travelling to about 12 cities per day, sleeping, eating — even washing himself on an airliner for thirty straight days. The beauty? He has a fear of flying.

Not only does he want to conquer his fear of flying, but he is also trying to break the Guinness record for continuous flight. And since AirTran has WiFi, Mark is able to relate his journey through his website and on his Twitter account.

His great adventure started this Monday and will go to the end of the month. I wonder if he is able to earn frequent flier miles through Airtran — I will try and ask him — stay tuned.
Update: Mark’s response: “I hope so!”
Update2: He has earned so many miles he got a big Elite airmiles card.