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Google, Virgin America Offer Free In-Flight Wi-Fi

For two months this holiday season, air travelers on Virgin America flights will be able to access the Internet free of charge, courtesy of Google.
At a time when air travelers face fees for just about everything, Google and Virgin America are bucking the trend.

The two companies on Monday said they had partnered to bring free Wi-Fi Internet connectivity to Virgin America flights between November 10, 2009 and January 15, 2010.

Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience at Google, said in a statement that Google wanted to give travelers a gift that makes travel easier and more convenient.

The service itself is delivered by in-flight broadband provider Gogo, which is owned by Aircell.

While Google is picking up the tab during the two month promotional period, Virgin's Gogo-powered in-flight Internet service is not completely free in terms of what you can do with it.

Although Virgin America is, according to a company spokesperson, the only Gogo partner that doesn't filter Web content, in-flight Internet users still have to agree to Gogo's Terms of Service.

The Terms of Service prohibit the use of VOIP applications, such as Skype, ostensibly as a way to manage bandwidth use and to prevent the sound of planes' engines from being drowned out by talkative fliers.

Seventy-two percent of Virgin America travelers surveyed in Q3 2009 support VoIP blocking to avoid having to listen to the chatter of fellow passengers, according to the company.

Google Voice can be used in-flight because "Google Voice doesn't have VOIP capabilities," a Google spokesperson said. However, functionality may be limited. While certain features like transcribed messages and SMS messaging should be accessible in-flight using a Web browser, the call-connection service isn't likely to work because it requires a functioning phone that can be connected to the person dialed.

Due to the close proximity of passengers on airplanes, the Terms of Service also require that users not display any content that's offensive if it can be seen by another person.

Gogo's service normally sells for $13 on flights over three hours, $10 for flights between one-and-a-half and three hours, and $6 for flights of less than an hour-and-a-half. For handheld/PDA devices, the service costs $8 on flights lasting more than an hour-and-a-half.

To make sure that electronic devices can last the length of a flight, Virgin America planes include a power outlet near every seat.

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