When a company like Google just makes too darn much money, they occasionally like to give some of it back. That's the case this holiday season when travelers will be able to enjoy free Wi-Fi on domestic flights with AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America. The service will be provided through the existing Gogo in-flight internet service, but Google is footing the bill. The free Wi-Fi will be available from November 20, 2010 through January 2, 2011
This may seem familiar to you, and you'd be right. Last year Google offered up free Wi-Fi in dozens of airports, and on Virgin flights. OF course, we could take the cynical route and note that this is probably just a product tie-in with the Google Chrome team, who is promoting the program. But maybe we'd like to pretend that Google is just in the holiday spirit.
Wi-Fi service in the air started out as a bit of a novelty, but it has since ballooned to encompass nearly 1 out of every 3 U.S. passenger planes. Despite the rapid growth studies have shown that less than 10% of passengers use the service, mostly because it's just too expensive to justify. Regardless of the numbers however, many airlines are reporting that they plan to finish adding this feature to their entire fleet within a few years, so clearly they must be making money somehow.
Aircell continues to lead the pack in terms of installed base in the U.S, but the competition could soon be heating up from a company named Row 44 who just recently managed to clear through the regulatory red tape that slowed their initial rollout. Aircell clearly has the first mover advantage, but Row 44 has the international roaming agreements that could make a difference in the long haul.
As the recession eases and companies loosen up restrictions on expense accounts we may see adoption of in-flight Wi-Fi rise, but it will still be difficult for the individual consumer to justify at $13. Tweeting "I'm texting from 30,000 feet" might sound like tons of fun, but the novelty has worn off long before the charge hits your credit card.
What is in-flight Wi-Fi worth to you? Does it need to be free?
Ever been stuck on a flight watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and wished you could whip out you’re laptop and download something else? Well Aircell, the founders of the largest in-flight Wi-Fi network are hoping that’s true, and are planning to launch a new video rental service later in the year to capitalize on that very idea.
Movies downloaded using the Aircell video service can be saved to any Windows PC and the renter has 24 hours to watch their purchase. The approach is similar to the iTunes model, but Aircell promises that the pricing will be competitive with Apple at $2 to $4 per TV show or movie, and presumably the file will be optimized for the limited bandwidth available in the air.
Surveys conducted by Aircell have suggested that a video on demand service would be popular with users who find most airlines entertainment options somewhat lacking. Unfortunately we still don't know if users will need to pay the $5-$13 Wi-Fi access fee in addition to the rental costs for the video, and clearly this will make or break it for most people. If you pay $10 for a 2 hour flight + $4 for a movie, that’s a $14 rental. It’s hard to imagine this would be the case, but you never know when it comes to the airlines these days.
Are you eager to be the first among your small group of friends to Twitter “I’m tweeting from an airplane, unbelievable!”. If so, you might just find the following guide from the good folks over at jaunted.com a handy way to help you figure out which airlines offer in-flight Internet connections, and exactly what you should expect to pay for the right to annoy your friends and loved ones from 30,000 feet.
A quick peek at the list shows Virgin America and AirTran are still the only two airlines that can boast an “unqualified yes” when it comes to in-flight Wi-Fi, with the competition still lagging pretty far behind. Rates seem to be pretty universal across the board at about $5 for the first hour, or $13 for 3. Expect Wi-Fi in the air to eventually become universal since it is one of the last new and innovative ways airlines have found to earn a few extra bucks.
Stripping paint from the hull and pillows from the cabin to reduce weight are other ideas, lets just hope the extra cash helps keep them from getting any more desperate.