WiFi high speed internet access is becoming available in more than just airports. Most airports are moving to free service which is probably going to bring a torrent of airport Wifi users online, many more than the current number of paying users. Given that Wifi Internet channel space is a shared resource, it will be interesting to see how airport Wifi scales with the up-tick in usage. But enough about that, Google ran a trial with Virgin Airlines early this year to offer free in-flight WiFi, and it’s a growing trend as more airlines plan to offer the same service.
Passengers will be able to use the WiFi service on any WiFi-enabled device, such as laptops, smartphones and portable media players. The service has not yet received final Federal Communications Commission approval since it is being offered on a trial basis. At Southwest, they also recognize the importance of inflight WiFi for their customers.
Southwest Airlines said it will roll out inflight WiFi service (a very handy travel accessory) to its entire fleet beginning in the first quarter 2010. The airlines will be using service from Row 44, which provides high-speed Internet access via the Ku band satellites. 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. Southwest already has a few planes equipped with the Row 44 WiFi devices.
Passengers will jump at the opportunity for free ad supported WiFi. WiFi is not a benefit, it’s an expectation and I suspect that airlines will make a lot more money from advertising to most passengers rather than enticing a few passengers to pay for the WiFi that they expect to have for free. Passengers can check in, get transportation information, future travel options using their mobile. In-flight WiFi is already something that a lot of smaller European carriers are offering during flights.
Airlines could integrate their Web portals on the seatback TVs to make it easy for passengers to access the free limited WiFi services the airline has to offer. The model here might be Virgin America’s system for sending instant messages to other passengers in mid-flight.
If they can access the internet, why not use their cell phones too? Airlines are more worried about the social aspects involved in permitting voice calls of any type within the cabin. The Federal Communications Commission and other agencies have quashed the idea of in-flight voice cell phone service due in part to massive outcry on the “nuisance” of jabbering passengers than to any real security threat.