Many airlines are banking on satisfying their tech-savvy passengers by rolling out live TV, e-mail and Wi-Fi Internet access on some flights...
NEWARK, N.J. — Many airlines are banking on satisfying their tech-savvy passengers by rolling out live TV, e-mail and Wi-Fi Internet access on some flights.
Continental Airlines recently said it would add lie-flat seats in business class, so travelers can recline while viewing their personal videos and enjoying music, all while charging their iPods.
Laptop power, headset and USB plugs also are tucked above the customer’s shoulder.
Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that allows people with laptops or personal digital assistants to connect to the Internet via “hot spots,” such as hotels, universities, libraries, coffee shops and airports.
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So far, airlines have been slow to adopt Wi-Fi for in-flight service, even though passengers are hungry for high-altitude e-mail and messaging services. By providing wireless connections, financially ailing airlines could add some sorely needed revenue, and meet the needs of many passengers, analysts said.
“Airports are the No. 1 area for wireless hot spots,” said Darryl Schoolar, senior analyst for wireless broadband at In-Stat, a technology research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“People use them for business and pleasure. Airplanes are the next frontier.”
Airlines are still wrestling with the business model for such a service at a time when they are trying to lighten their planes to make them more fuel efficient.
Continental plans to offer TV programs and messaging services while American Airlines is experimenting with giving customers full Internet access.
“Movies don’t make any money for the airlines,” Schoolar said, adding that Wi-Fi equipment would be roughly one-fifth the weight of in-flight movie gear.
“They are trying to raise revenue by putting ads on your boarding ticket, so they will be looking at this.”
JetBlue Airways was the first to offer Wi-Fi service on a single plane last December.
Delta Air Lines offers wireless access in its frequent-flier lounges, but not in-flight, and United Airlines is studying the cost of such a service.
American Airlines is testing its service and doing dry runs this summer with the hope of eventually charging $12.95 per transcontinental flight.
“We’ve done some surveys, and we’re not finding any resistance to that price point,” said American Airlines spokesman Ned Raynolds. American’s service will be provided by Aircell.
Continental Airlines will begin rolling out messaging services on planes starting in January on its newest Boeing 737 aircraft.
The service will be provided by LiveTV, which will offer TV programming as well as e-mail and instant-messaging services. Florida-based LiveTV is a unit of JetBlue.
All Continental customers will be able to send e-mail or instant messages for free. Economy-class customers will have to pay a $6 fee to access TV programming, which will be free for premium-class passengers, a Continental spokeswoman said.