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Airlines connecting passengers to the Web at 30,000 feet

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (mercifully) still won't let passengers yap on their mobile phones while in flight, there's nothing to keep airlines from letting their customers connect wirelessly to the Web. And that's exactly what Delta and several other major carriers have begun to do.

Delta Air Lines this week began offering Gogo Inflight Internet service from Aircell, LLC, an Itasca, Ill., wireless technology company, on five MD-88 aircraft flying Delta Shuttle routes between New York's LaGuardia Airport and Boston's Logan and Washington's Reagan National airports, plus one Boeing 757 flying domestic routes. Delta says that the service will be offered on five more flights by the end of the month and that it will be available on as many as 300 planes by the end of 2009. Northwest Airlines (a Delta subsidiary) will  begin offering Gogo late next year, according to the Delta Web site.

Gogo offers passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices—laptops, smart phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs)—access to the Internet, corporate networks and e-mail, as well as SMS texting and instant messaging services for a flat fee of $9.95 on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 on flights longer than that. Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as Skype, are not available due to FAA restrictions. The Boston Globe reports that Delta will block Web sites containing pornography or other content it deems inappropriate to view in public. Oh, and be sure to charge your battery before you take off, because there's still no other power source available in the air.

American Airlines and Virgin America have offered Gogo since August and November, respectively, and Air Canada plans to add the Internet service early next year. These airlines follow several others offering flyers the ability to stay connected to the Web at 30,000 feet (9 kilometers). JetBlue Airways ventured into airborne wireless Internet territory last December with the help of Melbourne, Fla., in-flight video provider LiveTV, as well as Yahoo! and Blackberry maker Research in Motion Ltd.

Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are testing a satellite-based Internet connection service offered by Row 44, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based provider of in-flight broadband connectivity that works over land and sea (Gogo only works over land). Alaska had been hoping to have the service ready for its Boeing 737 passengers this year, but could not install all of the necessary components before the holiday rush and delayed its trial until next year.

"In-flight service has had a bumpy ride for years and the first major effort—Boeing's Connexion service—was abandoned" in August 2006 after the aircraft builder spent a reported six years and $1 billion on it, InformationWeek reported this week. Boeing chairman, president and CEO, Jim McNerney, said in a 2006 press release, "Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected."

It appears Boeing may have given up two years too soon.

© iStockphoto.com /Alexander Hafemann

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