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Surfing the Internet At 30,000 Feet - Airlines Providing Wireless Access Mon 25 Aug 08

Look_like_an_ad_no_magitisaLast week American Airlines (AA) launched mobile broadband service, Gogo™ provided by Aircell  on certain select flights - " . . . customers traveling on American’s Boeing 767-200 aircraft can access complete coast-to-coast coverage on nonstop flights between New York and San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, and New York and Miami."  Delta and Virgin Atlantic have also signed with Aircell and will be offering service soon.

AA announced "Aircell will charge $12.95 on flights more than three hours, which include American’s Boeing 767-200 flights. Each paid Gogo session includes full Internet access. Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services are not available. "

As an IT guy I guess I should be happy about this but the truth is that while I accept this as an inevitable event I actually have mixed feelings about this.  I fully admit there have been times in the past when I really would have liked to have had access especially on long overseas flights.  However, since Aircell use ground towers to transmit their signal we still won't have it on overseas flights.

The reason for my mixed feelings?  Over the past few years air travel has become much less pleasant.  It's more like flying the "unfriendly skies" to paraphrase and mix airline metaphors.  I'm sure we've all seen the stories chronicling assaults on the cabin crew and assaults by the cabin crew.  Recently the hot news in Houston was the trial of a co-pastor of a local mega-church being sued by a flight attendant for allegedly assaulting her over a spilled drink in her first-class seat (the jury found no assault took place).

While most of us have probably never seen things as extreme as this I'd be willing to bet most would agree that both passengers and crew have become less civil and sometimes down right rude.  The economics of the airline industry have, I believe, had a role in late flights, lost luggage, low (or reduce) pay for employees, layoffs and increased fees for things we use to take for granted.  All of this has really made air travel less appealing.

Charging for Internet access is clearly being done for revenue generation purposes but will I'm afraid, make the travel experience even less enjoyable.  It will be interesting to see how the airlines handle situations like:

  • somebody will be surfing porn sites (you just know this is going to happen)
  • someone will object because the consider the site their seat mate is viewing (e.g. Sports Illustrated swimsuit) to be porn
  • someone will pay the $12.95 only to have the person in front of them put their seat in to full recline making it virtually impossible for them to use their laptop
  • since a lot of laptop users don't regularly use earphones I'm sure someone will object to having to listen YouTube videos
  • someone will pay the $12.95 and then the service will go down and they'll be upset when told they'll have to contact Aircell when they land, the airline won't assume any responsibility for service delivery.

Aircell has a video on their website dealing with "Inflight Etiquette" but I doubt how many people will actually view it much less take it to heart.  As Rodney King said so eloquently:

"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out."

Sometimes the best part about a flight is that you cannot work easily.  It can be a refreshing time to relax, think or perhaps just read a book.  The idea of even more people clicking away on their laptops and having to listen to what they listen to is not that appealing.  My fear is that cell phones on flights won't be that far away once the airlines get a taste  of this potential revenue stream.  The problem is that although I don't have to participate I'm captive in the environment with those that do.  No doubt some perceptive marketing person at the airlines will figure out we can charge people more to sit in a no internet and no cell phone area while at the same time charging others to use internet and cell phone.  A fare increase without increasing fares.  I'm sure they can hardly wait.

A little over a year ago I made "Some Technology Suggestions for Airline Customer Service"  It may be a personal preference but I'd rather see the airlines apply technology to those types of things instead of Internet access.

How do you feel about Internet access on planes?  If you've been on a recent AA flight and used Gogo I'd love to hear your opinion of it.

"looks like an ad, no?" photo by Magitisa

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