The Last Frontier: In-flight Internet Access, Take 2

By Jonathan Spira on 1 May 2009
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American Airlines was the first U.S. airline to announce in-flight Internet service for domestic flights. The first (test) phase of the American Airlines Gogo Internet service started in the middle of last year on the company’s fleet of 15 767-200 aircraft, which fly its transcontinental routes.

Recently, the company announced it will expand the service to over 300 domestic aircraft (the service doesn’t work over the Atlantic or Pacific oceans).

I am writing this from American Airlines Flight 15, New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO). Until today, I hadn’t had to take a transcon flight since Gogo was launched so I was excited to try out the new service (most of my flying in the past nine months was transatlantic).

The last flight I took with Internet service was back in 2005, when Lufthansa and several other airlines still offered the Boeing Connexion service.

Once we hit 10,000 feet (we’re now at our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet), I turned on my trusty Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and it immediately found several Gogo hotspots. It took just a few minutes to log in and and purchase service for today’s flight (a Gogo representative was handing out 25% discount coupons during boarding, I should mention) and I chatted with customer service about how to use my BlackBerry Bold smartphone on the same account (all I have to do is log off from the laptop and then log in from the Bold). Gogo really goes Gogo really goes.

So far I’ve done a speedtest, which showed a download speed of 1.55 Mbps (double what the Boeing Connexion service was able to offer) Gogo speedtestand checked e-mail, and read news from several Web sites including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The flight attendant has already served warm nuts and drinks so I’m going to relax and enjoy the flight for a little bit and then report again.


We’re still at 32,000 feet, just crossing over Minneapolis.

Purchasing Internet access for one’s laptop entitles you to log into the Gogo system from your smartphone at no additional charge. Smartphone support was recently introduced by Aircell, the company that runs the Gogo network and it only took a few moments to point the BlackBerry Bold to the Gogo hotspot and log in. I was surprised – but pleased – to find out that I was able to use BlackBerry Messenger from the Bold although I could not place or receive phone calls or send text messages. BlackBerry mail worked as well as did multiple applications I use regularly on the device. Gogo map AA transcon

By the time I had interupted multiple people via BlackBerry messenger, the flight attendants were handing out hot towels and tablecloths and starting to serve lunch (I had the herbed shrimp with couscous). During lunch, I reconnected to the Net via the ThinkPad and, using Slingbox, watched CNN and channel surfed. The picture quality was surprising good and audio quality was perfect.

After lunch, I checked in with a few colleagues via Lotus Sametime and read a few e-mail messages.

This is a working flight so I need to prepare a talk I’m giving tomorrow but I will continue this post later.


We just crossed the border from Nevada to California and I have been able to spend most of my time working, although connectivity was really only “required” sporadically. I did get to finish an important document and e-mail it to where it was needed. Absent Gogo, I could not have done that until we landed. I know the recipient was waiting for it so having connectivity proved very beneficial.

In sum: is it an absolute requirement? Of course not, we’ve gotten along without in-flight Internet access since the Wright brothers. It was fun, however.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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