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 Delta putting WiFi in the air

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PostSubject: Delta putting WiFi in the air   Wed May 27, 2009 1:43 am

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Delta putting WiFi in the air
Airline hopes to boost revenues with new technology
Nathan Hurst / The Detroit News

On board Delta Flight 1633 -- The no-smoking sign blinked twice, signaling the blessed moment had arrived for the Atlanta-bound workaholics squeezed on board: It was now safe to turn on approved electronic devices.

For those willing to shell out $9.95, it also meant their session off the grid was about to end.

Delta Air Lines Inc., Michigan's largest carrier with its second-largest hub at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, is in the midst of an aggressive rollout of in-flight Internet service. It's already in place on more than 145 aircraft, including Delta's entire MD-88 fleet -- the 100-seater workhorse jets that provide the backbone for the carrier's domestic network -- and the airline plans to complete the outfitting of its entire mainline fleet by late summer.

Outfitting the planes of Northwest Airlines, which Delta acquired last fall to create the world's largest airline, will begin in the fourth quarter and be completed next year.

"By then, we'll have more than 500 planes with WiFi capabilities, the largest fleet in the sky," said Ranjan Goswami, Delta's director for customer experience planning and development. "Our goal is to make the availability ubiquitous so our customers always have that option."

Major competitors, including American, Southwest, United and Alaska airlines, also are rolling out onboard WiFi offerings.

Rolling out wireless Internet access in the nation's skies comes at a rough time for the big airlines: Fewer people are traveling because of the recession, and the airlines' bottom lines are still stinging from a rough-and-tumble summer in 2008, when jet fuel prices pushed their business models to the brink.

But the new technology -- provided by partner company Aircell, which equips aircraft with the underbelly antennae connecting with cellular networks below and WiFi hot spots in the plane's cabin -- also hold promises of big revenue. Delta charges $9.95 to connect a laptop for flights under three hours and $12.95 for longer flights. Using a WiFi-enabled handheld device such as BlackBerry or iPhone for any length of flight costs $7.95.

Speedy like home service

The good news for travelers willing to pay is that Delta's system works quite well.

The Detroit News tested the speed of the service and found that many common tasks -- reading an e-Edition of The News, watching videos on YouTube, downloading e-mail -- worked just as well as a standard cable home Internet connection.

Adding in-flight Internet access is considered especially crucial to maintaining the affections of finicky business travelers, since they usually pay the most for last-minute and flexible tickets. Business travelers also have a strong aversion to being disconnected from work for too long.

In the rush of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Michael Standard, a finance consultant from Phoenix, said he would be most willing to pay for Web access on long flights, but not shorter hops like the 1 1/2 -hour journey from Detroit to Atlanta.

"I'm sure they'll make a ton of money off it," Standard said. "Think about flying from New York to L.A. or something like that. You'll pay for just about anything that'll make those six hours go by a little faster."

Delta's Goswami said the onboard Internet response has been "better than expected," and he expects more users to start logging on as the capabilities spread to all of the airline's fleet.

There are limitations

Of course, taking the Web to the sky has a few limitations. For one, access is limited to continental routes, since it depends on the cellular network below (some carriers are exploring the possibility of a satellite-based system that would be appropriate for trans-oceanic flying). Also, since most domestic aircraft don't offer power ports, users are limited to the battery life of their electronics (so make sure to power up before you go).

And there's also the issue of inappropriate content. For now, Delta has blocked roughly 2,000 Web sites as well as voice communication over the Internet, so passengers don't annoy each other with telephone chatter.

But for the most part, Goswami said, "it's very self-policing. Sitting on a plane with other passengers is the last place you'd want to bring up inappropriate content."

nhurst@detnews.com (313) 222-2293


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PostSubject: Re: Delta putting WiFi in the air   Wed May 27, 2009 4:11 am

$9.95? That's not too bad. It's too bad they can't work something out so that people could use this on international flights. I once flew nonstop from LA to Dublin and I would have loved to be able to have accessed the internet during that very long flight.


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PostSubject: Re: Delta putting WiFi in the air   Wed May 27, 2009 2:31 pm

yawn
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PostSubject: Re: Delta putting WiFi in the air   Wed May 27, 2009 2:47 pm

Many newer jet models have power ports, so you don't drain batteries, but they outfit the older MD jets (without power ports) first. Not cool. But overall, I like the idea.


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