Five Reasons Why Airplane Internet Services Will Take Off - InformationWeek

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8/22/2008
11:51 AM
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Five Reasons Why Airplane Internet Services Will Take Off

As American, Delta, and other airlines begin to roll out in-flight Internet services, I'm hearing a lot of doubts about whether they'll stick. And many people are ticked off that airlines have the audacity to charge passengers $12.95 for the service. But for all you naysayers, I have some answers for you on why I think broadband in the sky is here to stay.

As American, Delta, and other airlines begin to roll out in-flight Internet services, I'm hearing a lot of doubts about whether they'll stick. And many people are ticked off that airlines have the audacity to charge passengers $12.95 for the service. But for all you naysayers, I have some answers for you on why I think broadband in the sky is here to stay.Some will say, "It's too expensive at $12.95. Besides, airlines are now reaming us for baggage costs and meals. There's no way I'm going to hand over another $12.95 for Internet access."

Well, nobody complains when they pay $16.95 for a paperback novel at the airport terminal bookstore. It's all relative. And if you think airlines should or will offer this for free, dream on. Most are just trying to stay out of bankruptcy. It costs them to run this service, and they'll be lucky to squeeze a little profit out of it as it is. I see it more as a way to entice passengers and keep up with the competition in terms of passenger options.

"I don't care. It's the principle of it. I'm tired of getting reamed by airlines for every little cost now, and I'm not paying for it."

And you're not the only one who feels this way. Airlines know this, which is why they're counting on business travelers to use the service. Businesspeople everywhere expense WiFi access in airport terminals as they're waiting to board planes, so they can check e-mail and get other work done. There's even more downtime while you're actually in the air.

"Geez, when will I ever get away from work? Now I'm expected to stay in touch with the office from an airplane?"

Oh, come on. Wouldn't you rather answer the boss's e-mail while you're in a plane with nothing to do, rather than hours later in a hotel room, when you'd rather be settling down for a good night's sleep before the big conference? And do you really want to read that novel for seven straight hours on a cross-country flight?

"Yes, I do. I count on that downtime on the plane to listen to my iPod or read and generally have nothing to do with the office…you corporate shill."

Hey, I just see the logic in getting stuff done that I'll have to do later, anyway. And you know, there's no way the office can PROVE the Internet access is working on the plane at any one time, if you know what I mean. Wink wink.

"The airlines have been talking about Internet service for years, and Boeing even tried it with its Connexion service, but it was a failure. It didn't work then and it won't work now," pipe in those who think the service is doomed.

A version of Moore's Law is in play here; the equipment is both cheaper and smaller (well, lighter) for airlines than what Connexion offered, which is why U.S. airlines bailed out of their early interest in Connexion. We don't know the details of the airlines' deals with what appears to be the two key service providers for Internet services this time around, cell-based Aircell and satellite-based Row 44, but it appears they all have a fairly easy exit path if the services prove to be a bust, following tests on some key routes. Also, the Aircell service is less than half the cost of what some non-U.S. airlines charged with Connexion. And finally, people are far more connected than they were just several years ago. Take a look at all the CrackBerry addicts around you.

In sum, not every one is going to like or use in-flight Internet services. But there's a strong contingent of us who welcome it. I'm betting that this is the beginning of a long relationship between the Internet and the friendly skies.

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