Virgin America Launches Wi-Fi In-flight

By Naomi Graychase

November 21, 2008

Virgin America is looking to be the first commercial air carrier with fleet-wide Wi-Fi by the middle of next year.

Virgin America is looking to be the first commercial air carrier with fleet-wide Wi-Fi by the middle of next year. First up: a launch event Saturday in San Francisco where Virgin’s new in-flight Internet service, provided by Aircell’s gogo, will make its debut with a live video stream of the YouTube Live show to in-flight passengers, as well as to viewers in the airport 35,000 feet below.

 

Virgin’s first Wi-Fi-enabled plane will circle the skies above SFO during the afternoon event, which marks the beta launch of gogo on Virgin. Currently, gogo is available for $12.95 on three American Airlines flights, which run between New York and San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles. Air Canada and Delta are also scheduled to offer Gogo to passengers “soon.”

 

Gogo uses Aircell’s cellular broadband network for backhaul and is—it says—turning airliners into “onliners.” (Ugh.)

 

Gogo supports at least one smartphone or PDA from all the major carriers, including BlackBerry Curve 8320 (T-Mobile), iPhone and iPhone 3G (AT&T), and the HTC Mogul (Sprint). For a full list of supported devices, click here.

 

In-flight Wi-Fi service will be available on one Virgin aircraft starting November 24th, just in time for the Thanksgiving rush. Passengers on Wi-Fi-available flights will find gogo cards in the seatback pocket in front of them, and are encouraged to employ their mute buttons or headphones and to “be an angel” and not access any Web sites that might “shock your neighbor.” Voice calls are expressly prohibited.

 

At the end of 2007, we asked whether 2008 would be the year of in-flight Wi-Fi. It looks like the answer was…sort of. After a few failed attempts, most notably by Boeing, some airlines dipped their toes into the Wi-Fi water. JetBlue, for instance, has one Airbus A320 in its fleet that serves up free Wi-Fi using LiveTV’s Kiteline service. But, despite the bold prediction of one analyst who spoke with Wi-Fi Planet in December 2007 who said, “By the end of 2008, you’ll have two types of airlines—those that offer the Internet and those that wonder where their passengers went,” Wi-Fi is still more common on the ground than it is in the air. Airport access is definitely growing; in-flight access is just sort of standing on its tippy-toes. Virgin America, however, has set its sights on being the first U.S. carrier to offer in-flight Internet fleet-wide by the second quarter of 2009. Will 2009 be the year of in-flight Wi-Fi? We’ll be watching.

 

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. Most of her flights originate out of BDL.



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