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1/24/2008
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Business Travelers Cool To In-Flight Wi-Fi, Survey Finds

An Orbitz survey could put a damper on U.S. airlines' plans to bring wireless service to their passengers, usually on long distance flights.

Airlines rushing to provide Wi-Fi and other in-flight communications may be out of step with passengers, who generally aren't particularly anxious to get the wireless services, according to the results of a survey released Thursday by the Orbitz online travel company.

Based on a survey of business travelers, Orbitz found that that 56% believe they don't need to be connected while flying; another 36% said they would attempt to get a flight with Wi-Fi when available. Just 8% called wireless connectivity "very important" and would take more expensive or less convenient flights to get the service.

In recent months, many airlines have been hurrying to bring wireless service -- usually Wi-Fi networking technology -- to their passengers, and usually on long distance flights.

"Technological advances have made business travelers today more productive than ever before," said Dean Sivley, senior VP, COO and general manager of Orbitz in a statement. "While there are those who use flight time to catch up on work, and Wi-Fi will enhance that ability, there are also many who view it as valuable downtime. Many travelers felt it would be hard to rest with the person next to them talking on a cell phone."

U.S. airlines and their partners working to install Wi-Fi for passengers won't permit cell phone or VoIP use on their planes while in the air; FCC chairman Kevin Martin last year put down the idea of passengers talking on wireless devices and airlines have acted accordingly by preparing to outlaw wireless talking.

Orbitz said 57% of business travelers opposed the use of cell phones in-flight in its survey.

One interesting finding in the survey is that some passengers view their time onboard flights as a chance to enjoy some quiet time. "Twelve percent of respondents say they try to use travel time to relax and take their mind off work rather than talk on the phone," according to the Orbitz survey.

With Wi-Fi expected to be introduced this year by several airlines on selected flights, the question is begged: Will business travel passengers use in-cabin wireless technology for business or for pleasure? Orbitz found that 59% said they would use Wi-Fi equally for business and pleasure. The remaining 41% were also almost equally divided with 21% saying they would use wireless service for business and 20% saying they would use it for pleasure.

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