In-flight Internet Access: The Return Flight
After a pleasant (and very fast) drive in a BMW M3 from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and a few days of meetings there, I returned to New York via American Airlines Flight 22. Similar to the outbound flight to San Francisco, once we hit 10,000 feet, I was able to turn on my Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and find several Gogo hotspots.
For most of the flight, I was able to surf the Web, watch videos, read news, send and receive e-mail, and even check the flight’s exact position. I was also able to use my BlackBerry Bold smartphone, including the BlackBerry Instant Messenger (BBM) feature. Everything worked until 75 minutes prior to landing. At that moment, the Internet became inaccessible. The Gogo hotspots were replaced by locked access points labeled “Unknown.” The purser on the flight said that the service goes down from time to time but it usually comes back on its own. This time it didn’t. Aircell, which runs the Gogo network, was unable as of the time of publication to advise what had gone wrong.
American was the first airline to install Aircell’s Gogo in-flight access on its aircraft and it reportedly costs $100,000 per plane to deploy the system. The airlines clearly see this as an investment in both attracting and maintaining business customers and garnering incremental revenue. Other airlines offering the service include Alaska Air, Delta, Southwest, and Virgin America. The rollout is in its early stages so, with the exception of cases such as American’s 767-200 fleet, where all of this type aircraft have the service installed and the routes (e.g. JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX) are predictable, it is difficult to predict on which flights the service will be available.
Despite the hiccup, in-flight Net access is useful to business and leisure traveler alike. If only a tech support plane could have flown over to help us out….
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.