In-Flight Wi-Fi Report: Flyers Bemoan Loss of Foxhole
With as many as 800 planes in the U.S. morphing into mile-high Wi-Fi hotspots in the next two years, here's a thought that may not have occurred to the airlines: Some fliers are less than thrilled that one of their best excuses for ducking an annoying colleague or a last-minute work assignment may be snatched away from them.
That, at least, was the buzz among some pin-striped business types at an Airfinance Journal conference in Manhattan this week. According to one source, groans were heard when the topic arose. If the boss could fire off a demand while you're trapped in an aluminum tube, you're stuck--can't exactly sneak out to lunch, can you?
It appears that in-flight Wi-Fi providers are aware of this issue. Row 44 president Gregg Fialcowitz recently suggested in an interview that users who would rather read or nap can fall back on that time-honored excuse: "the system is down."
"We recognize the technology will annoy some, if not many," Fialcowitz conceded.
Still, in-air Wi-Fi may soon be ubiquitous, judging from American's recent pledge to expand Air Cell's Gogo service from 15 to 300 planes in two years; Delta aims to finish wiring a similar number by the end of 2009. Virgin America, while much smaller, says it will be the first U.S. airline to be all Wi-Fi by June. Alaska Airlines and Southwest are going with Air Cell rival Row 44, a satellite-based service that charges $8 versus Gogo's $10 to $13, depending on the length of flight. And both charge less for handhelds ($6 at Row 44, $8 at Gogo) meaning that CrackBerry addicts will be presumed to be online the whole time they're away from the office. In-flight phone calls, however, remain verboten under federal law.
I have to admit I was surprised that anyone would oppose Wi-Fi access in the air. I've tried it myself and thought it was great--but then again, as a freelance writer who is not tied to an office, I don't have the same fear of getting cornered, so to speak. It seemed a fine way to relieve the tedium of a three-hour coach flight.
What do you think? Do you ever use the "Oh, sorry I couldn't get back to you--I was on a plane" dodge for work or personal reasons? And if you have tried in-flight Wi-Fi, we'd love to hear about your experiences.