Will American Airlines In-Flight WiFi Succeed Where Others Have Failed?

The Chicago Sun-Timestakes a look at the difference between American Airline’s new in-flight WiFi service and other failed services that came before it. What will be the big difference? Technology. Unlike more pricey satellite services American will use technology that uses ground-based cellular phone sites to provide internet.

Rather than adding 1,000 lbs of gear to the plane, the ground-based internet service weighs 125 lbs, and shouldn’t require burning more fuel. From the Chicago Tribune:

American Airlines hasn’t yet set passenger rates for airborne Wi-Fi, but she said the goal is about $10 for a five-hour transcontinental flight, possibly with a premium charge “considering you’re using the Internet at 40,000 feet.” In contrast, she said Connexion would have charged about $30 for similar service.

Phillips [spokesperson] said AirCell services, with antennas on the underside of aircraft aimed at cellular towers six or seven miles away on the ground, cost $100,000 per plane and can be set up overnight while aircraft are on the ground. She said Connexion cost $1 million per plane, with antennas set up on the top of aircraft aimed at satellites 24,000 miles away.

She added that planes had to be grounded for a couple weeks to have the Connexion gear installed, resulting in revenue loss for the airlines.

Phillips also said that her company plans to block Skype and other internet-based calling features because “most air travelers find their neighbors phone chatter annoying.” Amen to that.

Will Wi-Fi in the sky fly? [Chicago Sun-Times]
(Photo:Drewski2112)

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  1. gibsonic says:

    haven’t we had this story like a few days ago/last week?

    i guess this one is concerned with installation cost and how/why it will be successful this time.

    if American doesn’t do it, someone else will. It will eventually be as common on flights as meals…owait…i mean pillows…owait…i mean on-time flights…owait…nevermind.

  2. ARP says:

    So, if they’re using cell towers, this isn’t an option on Trans-Atlantic/Pacific flights. I guess even with this limitation, if they price this correctly (e.g. $10 and not $25), I think it will sell well to the business class, tourists researching their destination, and parents who parent “by gadget” rather than teaching kids how to enjoy books, be patient, etc.

  3. polarogak says:

    Why just take ONE step back, technologically? Why not just hook a really long telegraph wire up to the plane?

  4. hypnotik_jello says:

    Carrier Pigeons?

  5. Amelie says:

    I used wifi on a Lufthansa/United flight last December. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I spent a good deal of time emailing friends and telling them I was doing this from 30,000 feet.

    Seriously, having internet access on a flight, would surely make it more pleasurable.

  6. gibsonic says:

    who will be the first to post on consumerist.com from an airplane that is in the air?

  7. jtlight says:

    This will not be worth it for most people with computers unless electrical outlets are also installed, no matter the length of the flight.

  8. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    It was the Sun-Times, not the Tribune that article was in.

  9. huadpe says:

    I know I would probably use this sort of service, just to alleviate boredom.

  10. timmus says:

    “antennas on the underside of aircraft aimed at cellular towers six or seven miles away on the ground”

    I can’t even imagine how this works… the aircraft probably raises hundreds if not thousands of cell phone towers at once, moves in and out of cells once every several seconds, and establishes what is probably an extremely high-speed multiplexed data connection. What kind of cell phone tower has this data link anyway? And if it’s true, why isn’t there “wireless everywhere” for us consumers?

    Or maybe the airplane’s datalink just puts the TCP packets really, really fast in SMS text messages and there’s nothing to marvel at!

  11. bilge says:

    If American gets this in place, the next thing to happen will be scads of complaints as people in economy try to open their laptops and realize exactly how small the seat pitch really is.

    I miss “More Room Throughout Coach.”

  12. Haltingpoint says:

    “Phillips also said that her company plans to block Skype and other internet-based calling features because “most air travelers find their neighbors phone chatter annoying.”

    Or do they just want to force you to pay through the nose for the existing phone service thats in the seatbacks currently?

    In any event, this will be cool. And advanced computer users will find a way around the VOIP block or use services like Teamspeak/Ventrillo.

    One thing I’ve wondered though is what is the bloody difference between two people chatting together in a row and someone chatting on a phone as long as they all keep their voices at a reasonable level?

    Either way, if they’re too loud, you should nicely ask them to keep it down and if they won’t involve a flight attendant.

    Oh well, here’s to being able to play MMOs to kill the time.

  13. pestie says:

    @timmus: Perhaps this technology uses directional antennas that track particular cell sites, or maybe it’s just been tested with the cellular provider and determined to be OK.

    I’m sure the data service itself is just something like EVDO or another IP-over-cellular technology. “Wireless everywhere” does exist (for appropriate definitions of “everywhere,” at least). My employer has several of those cellular IP cards for laptops for use at trade shows, etc. when the local wifi sucks (which is often) or when the conference hosting facility demands outrageous sums of money for internet access.

  14. Buran says:

    This doesn’t exist to me given it’s American.

    Hello, Southwest? Get cracking.

  15. formergr says:

    Couple of misconceptions being posted here:

    1) American Airlines already has regular AC outlets between their seats on just about all their planes (United, catch up anytime on this one, really)

    2)They are not blocking Skype et al because they want you to use the seatback phone– as far as I’m aware the last of those were discontinued this year when the operating carrier for them shut down or something.

  16. synergy says:

    @timmus: I think the telcos have been working their hardest to block legislation allowing free community wireless.