Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Surf the friendly skies

The "World Wide Web" is expanding its reach skyward. This year, a number of airlines are launching GoGo's in-flight WiFi internet service, enabling those of us with WiFi-capable laptops and mobile devices the online access we've been dreaming about. The service is already available on many Virgin America flights, and is rolling out on select American, United, Delta and AirTran routes later this year. (United says the service will be available "in summer" on its JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO routes; I'll be flying the former next month, so I'm eager to see if GoGo is available then.)

Not surprisingly, there will be a fee for access; surprisingly, the fee sounds rather reasonable, at least when you remember how much those Airphone calls cost. For laptops, it costs $9.95 for flights of three hours or less ($12.95 for longer flights), and only $7.95 for those of us using iPhones or other mobile devices. That's a much better deal than $5 for a sandwich that tastes like the cardboard box it comes in. As of now, GoGo will only be available on U.S. domestic flights.

I'm sure this is not welcome news to everyone. But I don't see this changing anything (yet) about the in-flight experience. Laptops are already ubiquitous, and people are well-trained to wear headphones when using them. Browsing the Web is a mostly quiet activity, so I don't see it as any more disruptive as someone watching a DVD on their notebook.

What does worry me, however, is the "gateway drug" nature of offering internet in-flight. It seems inevitable for this to lead to cell phone service in the sky. If that ever happens, then I will suddenly become a Luddite. I would rather fly behind a crying baby or in front of a seat-kicking toddler than next to someone who talks on the phone through the entire flight. (The article I read claimed that Skype would not be available through GoGo.)

Yes, I know that, by my own logic, this won't necessarily change the current in-flight experience, when people are free to talk as much and as loudly as they want to each other. But we've all observed the people who talk loudly on their phones in restaurants, pay more attention to their phones than the road on which they're driving, and bump into you on the street because they're too focused on their phone call to watch where they're walking. Do we really want to fly with those people?

Until then, though, I will happily—and quietly—surf the friendly skies whenever possible.

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