Would you Wi-Fi up high?

The latest trend in the US is to sell Wi-Fi to airline passengers so they can browse the net at 30,000 feet.  This is possible through a company called Aircell which is licensed by both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Authority to use certain frequencies for in-flight communications.

Aircell has a subsidiary called GoGo In-flight Internet that is now selling packages on a number of US airlines allowing passengers to browse online whilst in the air.

This is a time in which airlines are beginning to hit passengers with more and more charges, even absurd ones, such as Ryanair’s proposal to charge passengers to use their onboard toilets.  It seems that these fees are quite profitable.  In the U.S.A. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have been examining airline fees with a view to taxing them, which would put a further impost on passengers.  The Committee was told by the Government Accountability Office that airlines earned about US $7.9 billion in 2008-09 from extra fees.

So, given that passengers already pay a hefty price for so-called cheap airfares, would many people be willing to pay for Wi-Fi?  Associated Press journalist Samantha Bomkamp, in an article that was picked up by MSNBC writes:

“The major airlines have equipped most of their planes with Wi-Fi and touted the service. Prices of $4.95 to $12.95 aren’t exactly exorbitant, but passengers won’t shell out that money for something they don’t see as a necessity after paying higher airfares than last year and other fees, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmartTravel.com.

Even business travelers, who tend to have more money and a stronger desire to be constantly connected, don’t seem to be latching on to Wi-Fi service in big numbers. Banas thinks it’s a problem with the logistics of working on an airplane — there isn’t enough wiggle room between the seats, or enough time in most cases between takeoff and landing, when laptops and smart phones have to be turned off and stowed.”

Some international airlines are looking at introducing onboard Wi-Fi.  Cathay Pacific has done a deal with Panasonic to develop a method for passengers to use their mobile phones and computers on board.  Cathay Pacific is a full service airline, so there may not be an extra charge for passengers, and other full service airlines are also involved in developing systems for onboard use of phones and computers.

But as for paying for the privilege of using Wi-Fi up in the air, here’s a direct quote from blogger Wade who wrote on the MSNBC site of his recent experiences:

I tried gogo a few different times on my flights. Here are the issues:

1. You can’t use certain devices until the Captain has given the green light. That can sometimes be 15 minutes after the plane left the airport, then again upon arrival. When flights within the US are roughly an hour long a leg, your user time after getting the device turned on and signed in becomes more of an inconvenience than practical.

2. Condensed seating. As said before, elbow room and room enough to use your laptop. I was stuck between two very large people on a flight and barely had room to move. I am certain they would not be physically capable of the task of using a laptop on a plane, unless in 1st class.

3. Privacy issues. Let’s face facts. People sitting next to you can’t mind their own business, and in some cases are trying to indulge on your info.

4. Some are annoyed by others using a laptop in-flight, with or without Wi-Fi. I have tried to watch a movie and play the simple video games in Windows, and I could tell even though I was using headphones, one fellow passenger appeared to be upset, as if I was doing something illegal. Some just don’t approve of other’s behavior, even if it is non-threatening or non-invasive.

5. Extra baggage. Some airlines are now charging for even underseat items. So if I bring the laptop, I am then paying twice if I also pay for Wi-Fi. Not a good deal.

6. Potential of theft. Now someone knows what is in one of my carry-on bags, and thinks it is worth a chance to acquire while I take a trip to the airplane’s little break room. Had I just left it tucked away, no harm, no foul. But imagine if someone gets away with it, and I don’t have the hard drive locked from prying eyes. Big-time bummer. And possibly more potential for identity theft, etc.

7. Hassle during screening. Taking a laptop along for the ride means an extra step in the screening process. Actually, more than one step if you consider removing it from the bag and then having to gather it back after the x-rays did their job.

8. Drinking and web-browsing. When the courtesy patrol (flight attendants) stop by to offer a drink, where will you set it? On your keyboard? Maybe I should just go thirsty for this flight.

9. Service, interrupted. I am in the middle of a VIW (very important whatever) and I am told I have to shut my laptop off because we are about to land. No choice, just off. I wasn’t told even a minute earlier, but now it is turn it off or go to jail. If I only had 30 more seconds!!!

10. And finally, NO REFUNDS!!! I couldn’t use but 15 minutes of the service that I was charged $7.99 for. Why can’t I have it pro-rated? I go to a gas station and tell them to put $20 on the pump, but I can only fill my tank with $15. I get $5 back. Why not this service?

Gogo, I hope you are reading this, but not while in-flight, since you may not get this far into the feedback!!!

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