In-flight Wi-Fi to take off with Delta

Delta Air Lines will offer wireless broadband on over 60 percent of its flights per day by the middle of next year.

Delta Air Lines passengers will get Wi-Fi access on all domestic flights by the middle of next year, the company said Tuesday.

Several other airlines, including American Airlines, Virgin America and JetBlue, have announced similar in-flight Wi-Fi plans , but Delta's roll-out is among the most aggressive plans announced.

Delta Air Lines will begin offering Wi-Fi throughout its domestic fleet by mid-2009. Delta

Specifically, the Atlanta-based airline plans to outfit its domestic fleet of 330 aircraft with Wi-Fi, which amounts to around 60 percent of Delta's seats flown every day. The service won't be available aboard Delta's smaller aircraft, which typically seat 50 to 75 people.

The wireless service, which will allow people to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, PDAs, or smartphones, will cost $9.95 on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 on flights of more than three hours. The airline is partnering with Aircell, which also supplies in-flight Wi-Fi technology to other carriers, such as American Airlines and Virgin America.

Virgin America has said it will offer the Aircell Gogo service in the fall. And like Delta, it is already planning a massive roll-out. It hopes to have its entire fleet Wi-Fi-enabled by April 2009.

But other airlines are still testing the in-flight service and haven't yet announced plans for massive deployment. JetBlue has been testing a free Wi-Fi service since December on one plane that flies between New York City and San Francisco.

American Airlines, which announced its service more than a year ago, is currently testing the service. It expects to offer Wi-Fi on only 15 planes that fly its transcontinental routes later this year.

US Airways said it will offer Wi-Fi service on a trial basis on one Airbus aircraft in the fall. And Southwest Airlines is using a satellite-based service from Row44 to provide Internet access on four planes on a trial basis.

Other major airlines--including Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, and AirTran Airways--have not announced plans to offer in-flight Wi-Fi, according to the Associated Press.

Airlines have been talking about offering in-flight broadband for years. But so far the service hasn't really caught on. Boeing first offered the service called Connexion, which debuted in 2004 on a few international carriers including Lufthansa, SAS, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.

Boeing canceled the service in 2006 when the company was unable to find business among domestic airlines. A big problem with Connexion was that the entire system was bulky and weighed around 400 pounds, making it nearly impossible for it to be used on smaller domestic planes.

The Aircell Wi-Fi technology is much easier and cheaper to deploy. But with fuel prices at all-time highs, it's difficult to say whether airlines will find wireless broadband services lucrative enough to spend the necessary capital to upgrade their plans with routers and power outlets for passengers.

 

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