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5 ways inflight wi-fi could improve

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It’s not here yet, but the promise of faster, more reliable in-flight wi-fi is on the horizon. We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out, but for now, here’s the news:

This month Gogo announced that it will roll out a new in-flight wi-fi product that will be 20 times faster than its original product, and six times faster than its upgraded ATG 4 system rolled out last year. The hybrid system (called GTO for “Ground to Orbit”) will use its existing ground-based network of antennae as well as a new satellite system.

Here's what's under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo's new "Ground to Orbit" wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what’s under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo’s new “Ground to Orbit” wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America will be the first airline to add the new system starting in late 2014. Gogo also powers in-flight wi-fi on Delta, American, US Airways and on United’s p.s. flights between California and JFK.

TIP for using Gogo: Did you know that if purchased during flight, a Gogo all-day pass now costs as much as $26? To get around that, you can by an all-day pass from the Gogo site in advance for just $14.

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JetBlue, which currently does not offer wi-fi, announced that it would start adding a fast new satellite-based system from ViaSat to its flights later this year. All its 180 planes could be wi-fi friendly by 2015.

In addition to internet access, Southwest’s satellite based system from Row 44 is now streaming live TV to passengers’ personal devices, free (for now at least). Row 44 is now on about 450 Southwest jets—about 80% of its fleet. The current cost for wi-fi is $8 per flight. Row 44 also provides wi-fi on Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will begin flying nonstop between Oakland and Oslo and Stockholm next summer.

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United is slowly rolling out a new satellite-only wi-fi system from Panasonic on select domestic and overseas flights. Currently it’s on about 60 A319 and A320 aircraft and 13 747s. Pricing is per segment and varies (from $4 to $20) based on flight length and connection speed. I was eager to give the new system a try on an SFO-SNA flight last week, but after a few system re-sets, flummoxed flight attendants said that it was inoperable on that flight.

Have you tried United’s new wi-fi system yet? Streamed live TV on Southwest? How did that go for you? Please leave your comments about inflight wi-fi below.

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Last week I attended the Airline Passenger Experience Expo in Anaheim—a very cool show for airline geeks. It’s a gathering of all the suppliers for everything on the inside of an airplane—from carpet and lights to seats, wi-fi systems and inflight catering. What a sight to behold!

My “aha moment” came when I saw a simple solution to a problem that likely frustrated millions of frequent travelers every day… how to keep your  smart phone or tablet standing up on the airline tray table. A company called Smart Tray International has patented a rather simple solution—carve a grove into the tray tabletop into which the tablet or smart phone can be inserted. Brilliant, simple solution.

And, since we are moving to a BYOD for “Bring Your Own Device” world when it comes to inflight entertainment, the idea’s especially prescient.

Would you use it? Please leave your comments below! 

-Chris McGinnis

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