In-flight Wi-Fi: Everybody's doing it

Aircell has made a commanding name for itself in in-flight Wi-Fi systems. In its first year offering GoGo InFlight Internet service, the company has secured Wi-Fi contracts with Virgin America, American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, AirTran, United, and others.

At the beginning of 2009, United announced that it would begin to offer Aircell's GoGo Wi-Fi on its transcontinental service between New York and California "in the second half of this year," and it has finally been able to deliver.

The first flight featuring this service took place last Friday, and the airline is said to be outfitting 13 more Boeing 757s with Aircell's Wi-Fi hardware, with completion expected by the middle of November. On the transcontinental flight, Wi-Fi access costs $12.95 for laptops and $7.95 for Wi-Fi smartphones and PDAs, and all flight classes have access. Aircell varies the price depending on the length of time the flight is in the air. For short hops, it costs $5.95, for 1.5 to 3 hours, it's $9.95, and for up to 24 hours it's $12.95.


Five airlines have commercially deployed Aircell's Wi-Fi, and three more are expected to be complete by next year, putting GoGo on more than 570 aircraft.

But Aircell isn't the only one making a name for itself. Southwest Airlines is taking a different approach with a different system, built by California company Row 44, supplemented by JiWire's in-flight advertising platform. Rather than only allow paying customers online, limited access will be freely available to all passengers.

Of course, free access will be limited to a portal called "Skytown Center" which is the online equivalent of the Skymall catalog, rife with advertisements. But paying customers will be granted unfettered access for likely a much lower cost if still ad-supplemented.

The Wi-Fi Alliance recently released a survey of 480 frequent business fliers, in which 76% said they would choose an airline based upon the availability of in-flight Internet.

Some 71% of respondents also said they would choose Wi-Fi over an in-flight meal. Let the contrived airline food jokes begin.

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