JetBlue To Roll Out (Possibly) Free In-Flight WiFi In 2013

With most airlines going the nickel-and-dime route for amenities that had long been included in the price of a ticket, it’s nice to hear about a carrier offering something new for free… even if it may only be free in the very beginning.

Yesterday, the tech types at The Verge posted an internal e-mail from JetBlue that outlines some of the basics of the plan.

“Currently, Wi-Fi on board is a competitive advantage,” reads the letter. “Customers, especially those traveling for business, with everything else being equal, will choose the airline that offers connectivity, even if the service is spotty or expensive….

“The challenge for us was building a Wi-Fi product that broke this slow, frustrating and ultimately unsatisfactory mold. We wanted to find a way to deliver faster and less expensive service that would result in greater satisfaction. With LiveTV partnering with ViaSat, I think we found the sweet spot.”

The letter speaks lovingly of ViaSat’s download speeds, claiming that one test downloaded 10 web pages in an average of 78 seconds. JetBlue says the second-fastest service took as long as 8 minutes, 42 seconds.

The letter also states that connecting to the WiFi will be free — with the huge caveat “at least until the first 30 aircraft are equipped with our service.”

That accounts for less than 1/10 of the approximately 350 jets that will receive the WiFi upgrade by the end of 2015.

The folks at ViaSat have confirmed this news in a statement to Consumerist.

“Compared to air-to-ground and traditional satellite in-flight networks, the improved capacity and economics of our Ka-band system enable airlines to finally bring a high-speed home or office Internet experience to passengers,” said Mark Dankberg, ViaSat CEO and chairman.

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  1. PeriMedic says:

    We have ViaSat on one of our planes at work. It is excellent. However, we only have about 20 online at the same time, at the most. I wonder if the service degrades with 150 online?

  2. JMH says:

    “confirmed this news” implies that ViaSat confirmed the news you’re reporting, namely that JetBlue will be implementing in-flight WiFi, maybe for free, in 2013. Their “confirmation” just appears to be ViaSat boasting about their product.

  3. scoosdad says:

    I flew on Alaska Air over the summer on one of their wifi-equipped flights. I gave it a try with my tablet as soon as we hit altitude where electronic devices were permitted, and for awhile it was fast and smooth. I was really impressed as it was my first chance to try inflight wifi. Then apparently more and more people aboard were signing on to it as the flight got longer, and eventually the service severely degraded to the point where it was at times unresponsive so I stopped using it.

    While it lasted, it was fairly fast and smooth. I briefly watched a minute or so of a video I had put on YouTube just to check the throughput and it played without a hiccup. I was surprised they hadn’t blocked something that could potentially suck up a lot of their available bandwidth. After that I used it for basic web browsing and I exchanged a few text messages with someone who was going to pick me up on the other end.

    I guess I’d say this about JetBlue offering it, that if it’s going to be free (for awhile) then they’d better have lots of bandwidth available. Alaska Air wanted I think $10 for the duration of the flight and I thought that was fair for a coast to coast trip and I guess so did a lot of other people.

  4. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I was just happy to get the fruit and cheese tray both ways on my last trip. Yum yum.

  5. FredKlein says:

    But…but…but… I was told that turning on my laptop/iphone/tablet/etc would crash the plane!!!

    • MarkFL says:

      Presumably you won’t be able to use it during takeoff or landing — which is currently the rule for laptops anyway.

  6. LBD_Nytetrayn says:

    I wonder if it will be as bad as Amtrak and Megabus’s free wifi.

  7. NeverLetMeDown2 says:

    God, I hope it isn’t free. When Google was sponsoring free gogoinflight wifi last year, the speeds were unusably bad.