The unsure future of in-flight wifi

Remember when Clear Security started giving away discounted and free memberships earlier this year? At the time, the company marketed the effort as a means to increase membership and awareness, but in hindsight we now see that it was also a death rattle. Only weeks after announcing a host of specials, Clear unexpectedly terminated its service, stranding tons of passengers with costly expired memberships.

Could that same demise prove possible for in-flight wireless? 2009’s holiday season has brought numerous deals for free onboard internet, and this could very well be a last ditch effort to drum up support. As Mary Kirby at Flightglobal highlights, an average of six users per flight are using internet, which surely can’t be enough to pay for operating costs. How long can this sustain?

Some could also argue that wireless has greater value than the niche service that Clear offered. But think back to the time when seat-back phones were installed on airplanes — that seemed like a good idea too, right?

For what it’s worth, I hope that the airlines stick with their wi-fi plans. As the population of passengers continues to age, the technology generation is quickly forcing out the less tech-savvy baby boomers and wireless usage is surely going to pick up. As an industry, we just need to wait for the boom.

[Via Brett Snyder at BNET]