Something Special in the Air — Wireless Access

The race for wireless Internet access in the skies is off, and American Airlines, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines are leading the way.

American Airlines, working with AirCell, will test high-speed broadband connectivity on many of its transcontinental flights starting in January 2008. AirCell’s “solution” will provide passengers with high-speed Internet connection, VPN access, and email capabilities through WiFi-enabled laptops and PDA devices.

The technology will be available in all classes of the B767-200 aircraft for an undisclosed fee, and if the test is successful, says American, the feature will be added to American’s domestic fleet by the end of 2008 or early 2009.

AirCell is also partnering with Virgin America to offer WiFi broadband services on transcontinental flights in 2008. Virgin’s service will cover most broadband features associated with WiFi (but not VoIP). Virgin will charge for the service, but fees have not been determined.

Earlier this week, Alaska Airlines announced plans to test wireless Internet service in spring 2008 on a single Boeing 737 aircraft. The technology will provide passengers who have WiFi-enabled devices with access to Internet, email, VPNs, and inflight entertainment. The airline expects to equip its entire fleet of 114 airplanes with broadband service by the end of 2009.

Don’t expect a free ride here either. A spokesperson with Alaska Airlines, Amanda Bielawski, told Fodor’s that “They’re looking at a wide range of pricing possibilities.”

—Chris Culwell