JetBlue Hops on Wi-Fi Bandwagon

JetBlue Airways announced Tuesday that it is the first U.S. domestic air carrier to provide complimentary in-flight email and instant messaging aboard its aircraft. The airline’s wireless capability was tested Tuesday aboard one of JetBlue’s New York to San Francisco flights.

The airline’s wireless service enables passengers with Wi-Fi-capable laptops and cellphones to send and receive email and text messages via customized in-flight versions of Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. The service extends to passengers using Research in Motion’s (RIM) Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerrys for email and instant messaging.

At this time, only one JetBlue plane — BetaBlue — is equipped with the wireless technology. JetBlue spokesperson Bryan Baldwin told Fodor’s this week that “based on customer feedback, we will develop a plan and timeframe for a potential fleet-wide rollout.”

Baldwin also noted that every airplane in the JetBlue fleet “flies within our entire network,” and that individual aircraft are not assigned to specific routes, and “as such, we are unable to know in advance which routes BetaBlue will fly on any given day.” Baldwin added that “We will attempt to schedule BetaBlue on transcontinental flights as much as possible.”

JetBlue isn’t the only airline to announce its readiness for Wi-Fi capability. Three other carriers — American Airlines, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines — are testing Wi-Fi technologies that will be outfitted on their respective air fleets by late 2008 and early 2009. (American Airlines may choose only to outfit the business-travel-dominated transcontinental U.S. flights with Wi-Fi.)

Unlike these airlines, JetBlue’s Wi-Fi is complimentary. American, Virgin America, and Alaska are considering various fee structures based on routes. Free is nice, but at this time JetBlue can’t guarantee passengers in 2008 that they’ll be able to request a Wi-Fi flight if they desire it.

As JetBlue spokesperson Alison Eshelman told Travel Weekly, the trial aircraft’s availability on a particular route will be “a surprise and delight” to travelers.