The Internet Super Highway Coming to the Friendly Skies as Some Airlines Offer In-Flight Internet Service


Gone are the days of meals and playing cards on airlines; however, now you will hear when you get on a plane … “you got mail.” Gone are the days of getting an extra package of nuts, but the world wide web will be available.  In a post 911 world where due to terrorism concerns passengers cannot bring on a multitude of items, we will now have access to the web and direct IM communication. Let’s think this one out first to its full conclusion before we have to deal with the laws of unintended consequences and a terrorism plane disaster. So we don’t allow liquids on a plane, but we allow internet access … Hmmm.


Passengers may soon hear a new in-flight announcement: “You can now log on.”

Starting next week and over the next few months, several American airlines will test Internet service on their planes.

On Tuesday, JetBlue Airways will begin offering a free e-mail and instant messaging service on one aircraft, while American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a broader Web experience in the coming months, probably priced at about $10 a flight.

“I think 2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available, but I suspect the rollout domestically will take place in a very measured way,” said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forrester Research. But “in a few years time, if you get on a flight that doesn’t have Internet access, it will be like walking into a hotel room that doesn’t have TV.”

While companies have been promising airborne Internet service for years — the aircraft manufacturer Boeing offered a system that was adopted by a few international carriers but is now defunct — JetBlue will be the first carrier in the United States to offer access to the Web, at least in a limited way.

Forgetting in inconvenience of having to listen to someone chat for an entire plane flight on a VOIP like Skype, do we really want that type of unfettered access communication while a plane is in the air in the era of terrorism we live in?

One potential pitfall, from a regulatory and technical standpoint, is that the connectivity would make it possible to make voice-over-Internet phone calls using services like Skype. American and Alaska will not allow phones calls with their services, but Charles Ogilvie, director of inflight entertainment and partnerships for Virgin America, said, “We’re definitely not automatically ruling anything out.”

That may send chills down the spines of frequent travelers, many of whom are strongly opposed to the prospect of dozens of chatty passengers in a confined space, which was one of the reasons the F.C.C. decided against lifting the ban on cellphone calls in planes.

“I absolutely would not be in favor of voice,” said Jeff Haber, a real estate lawyer in Los Angeles who added that he would like Internet access in the air, even if he had to pay for it. “One of the things that’s nice about airplanes is that people aren’t on cellphones all the time.”

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