Southwest Airlines is set to test satellite-delivered broadband Internet on four aircraft this summer. Teaming up with Row 44, the airline’s customers will have full access to the Internet including email, music, shopping and Virtual Private Networks (VPN) via a high-speed connection. Row 44 provides in-flight broadband services and is also working with Alaska Airlines for their in-flight Internet service expected to be available this year.
Continental Airlines is teaming up with LifeTV to provide onboard Wi-Fi services including email and instant messaging connectivity for flights within the U.S. by January 2009. The service will be free but is currently in the testing phase. Customers will be able to use the service with Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, BlackBerries and laptops via Yahoo! mail and messenger and BlackBerry email and messenger. LiveTV will also offer 36 channels of live television programming provided by DIRECTV including sports, news, weather, children’s programming and general entertainment; the seatback screens will also offer a moving map and other stored informational content. Coach customers will have to pay $6 for the service while it will be free for first/Business First customers.
American Airlines is teaming with Aircell to provide Internet connectivity for their aircraft with the first passengers having the Internet in-flight no later than June of this year, mostly on transcontinental flights.
JetBlue has started a test of Internet access and Virgin America is also working with Aircell to provide broadband connection sometime this year.
Although most airlines are working toward this capability for customers, according to an Orbitz survey, business travelers might not be exactly clamoring for wireless service on flights. Orbitz found that 56 percent of business travelers say they don’t need to be connected while flying while only 8 percent said that wireless connectivity was “very important” and would take more expensive or less convenient flights to get the service. However, 36 percent said that they would attempt to get a flight with Wi-Fi when it becomes available.