Last week American Airlines began the first flights of Aircell equipped planes, offering wireless Internet connectivity at a fairly low cost. The introduction of Aircell raises many of the same issues that we saw with Boeing's ill-fated Connexion service a few years ago, namely the potential to get stuck next to a person who spends the whole flight talking using VOIP over wireless. But there are other issues as well....
Fortunately Boeing's service wasn't reliable enough for a useful voice conversation (I had the opportunity to try it once on a flight home from Germany aboard Lufthansa).
Aircell claims to block any and all voice & video services. Andy Abramson over at VOIP Watch reports unsuccessfully trying to talk with a colleague using SightSpeed and Skype, but he was able to have a voice conversation using Phweet, a flash-based voice service. Dan York suspects that this will lead to an arms race as Aircell fights VOIP users. I think he's right, but I don't think more than a handful of users will care enough to fight the battle.
I think what might be more interesting is the impact that Internet access on planes will have on virtual workers. Will people be able to avoid meetings because they are in the air? I think that argument will be harder to make, especially if folks figure out VOIP-based work-arounds. Will that little bit of escape time that frequent fliers enjoy from the office be eliminated as Internet in the air becomes more widespread? I suspect the answer is going to be "yes".
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