I’m a huge fan of in-flight Wi-Fi, especially for flights longer than 90 minutes, so I’m excited to learn that two more airlines that serve the Bay Area in a big way are adding it. But not for a while.
First off, Alaska Air announced that it’s reached a deal with AirCell’s Gogo—the same provider used by Virgin America, United, Delta and others. But don’t hold your breath. The carrier still has to go through testing and certification with the FAA. It plans to outfit its fleet of new Boeing 737-800’s first, but has not officially set a target date for installation.
One downside: Much of Alaska Airlines’ flying is over water or desolate areas in Alaska, Canada and Mexico where the ground-based Gogo system is currently out of range of the network of radio towers it depends on. That means I’ll get a good Wi-Fi signal in-flight if I choose an Alaska Airlines flight from here to Seattle or Austin. (It adds a second daily “Nerd Bird” nonstop between San Jose and Austin next week.) But my Wi-Fi is not going to work on those new Alaska Air flights from here to Hawaii. And it will be spotty at best on the long coastal flights between Seattle and Anchorage.
Here’s where this story gets ironic. Southwest Airlines, which flies almost exclusively over land, has chosen another in-flight Wi-Fi provider called Row 44, which uses a satellite-based system that works over water and just about anywhere else.
At one time, Alaska Airlines seemed close to landing a deal with Row 44, which would make sense given its flying patterns. Instead, it’s gone with land-based Gogo. Why? “Ultimately Alaska Airlines decided to go with Aircell’s Gogo service because of its proven track record of deploying affordable inflight Wi-Fi services to travelers. Its lower-cost equipment, coupled with the ease and speed of installation and finally its system reliability, allow us to rapidly deploy a desirable service to customers,” Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan told The BAT.
Anyway, Southwest plans to start outfitting its fleet of 540 Boeing 737’s this spring, and says Wi-Fi will be available fleet wide by late 2012.
Frequent travelers from the Bay Area are lucky… they have more in-flight Wi-Fi choices than nearly any other major city. (Except maybe Atlanta, where AirTran offers it on all flights from its hub there, and Delta’s got it on well over half its fleet.) From the Bay, all Virgin America flights offer it. Delta, United and American offer it on all flights between SFO and JFK, and on select flights to other cities. AirTran offers it on all flights between here and Atlanta and beyond.
Have you tried in-flight Wi-Fi? Are you as big a fan as I am? I can’t think of a better way to take advantage of a long flight. To me, it’s the greatest thing since the introduction of the in-flight movie. I don’t mind paying for it either. It definitely drives my airline choice, especially when planning flights longer than 90 minutes. Please leave your comments and experiences with in-flight Wi-Fi below.
Here’s an interesting video that explains how Gogo’s ground-based in-flight internet works: