Virgin America grabs claim to first fleetwide airborne Internet service

Things move mighty fast in the world of inflight Internet access. A mere 6 hours after I posted about a different airline claiming to be the first with (upcoming) fleetwide Internet access, Virgin America has stepped forward as the new winner.

In fact, in just 2 weeks (on Memorial day), Virgin America will have the Gogo Inflight service available on all their planes, making them the first airline in the country to reach this milestone.

It was only 6 months ago that we celebrated the launch of their service on board Virgin America flight 8001.

And sure, it may be easier to get your entire fleet equipped when you are not as large as some of the legacy carriers, but their commitment to providing Internet on all their flights is one that deserves a round of applause.

Until their entire fleet has been outfitted, you can check whether your upcoming flight will be equipped with the service when you book a ticket on their site, just look for the little “WiFi” icon in the flight lineup.

AirTran set to become the first airline with fleetwide Gogo Inflight Internet access

AirTran is the newest airline to bring inflight Internet access to the skies. The airline chose the Gogo Inflight to outfit their planes, which is the driving force behind airborne Internet service on United Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin America and Delta.

What makes the Airtran announcement special, is that their entire fleet will be equipped with the service by mid-summer.

That means all 136 AirTran planes will allow you to get online just in time for your vacation.

Gadling took Gogo Inflight for a spin last year on Virgin America, and as far as I am concerned, the service is the biggest thing to hit the skies since online check-in. Speeds are great, and at $9.95 for flights up to 3 hours, getting online is quite affordable.

Inflight Internet access was just one of the ideas submitted by AirTran passengers on their site ““. Some of the other submissions included “hungry squirrels”, “mojitos” and “remote control cars”. I can see why Internet access won.

Southwest Airlines joins the “superskyway” with inflight Internet trials

Southwest Airlines just announced their first inflight WiFi trial. The service is installed on one of their 540 planes, with an additional 3 planes to be equipped by March.

Access is provided by Row 44 – who opted for a satellite-to-plane system, unlike the technology in use by Aircell who use a ground-to-plane system.

In addition to the inflight internet access, Southwest also partnered with Yahoo! to create a custom homepage for each flight. The page contains destination information, a live route map as well as a collection of Yahoo! games.

Southwest is the last of the major carriers to commit to bringing wireless Internet access to their fleet, but as the largest US carrier (in terms of passenger numbers), I’m sure a commitment like this is not something you do overnight.

The Southwest Airlines inflight Internet service has not yet received FCC approval, and no pricing has been determined. During the trial, passengers can connect to the service for free. Any WiFi enabled device should be able to get online during the flight, including laptops, iPhones and any other smartphone.

Pretty soon the news we post about airborne Internet will be about the airlines that do not offer this service. Oh, and just so we are clear about something, the term “Superskyway” is theirs – not mine!

(Via: Southwest Airlines blog)

Looking back at ’08 – 5 things we gained this year

Welcome to part 2 of my “looking back at ’08” segment. In part 1, I listed 5 things we lost in 2008, and in this article I will list 5 things we gained. While you reminisce about 2008, why not check out my list of 10 New Years resolutions that could help make 2009 a much better travel year!

There is no denying that 2008 will take up a pretty decent chunk of history books in years to come. Between the Chinese Olympics and the total destruction of our economic civilization, I’d say it’s been a pretty interesting year. Oh, and we also elected our first African American president. Awesome stuff. Of course, not much of this means much to us travelers, so here are 5 things we gained in ’08:

Internet in the air

I’m a geek, so I have listed this one first. Needless to say this is also the one that excited me the most in 2008.

Internet in the skies has long been a something airline passengers have wished for. The first glimpse of its potential came from Boeing back in 2004, but like many new technologies, this one failed pretty quickly.

In 2006, United Airlines tried to breathe new life into the seatback Verizon Airfone handsets, by offering some very basic online access. Needless to say, that one did not last long either. For some reason, people were not willing to pay $10 for instant messaging and 5 pages of news clippings.

Then, out of the ashes of the Verizon Airfone infrastructure came Aircell. This company purchased the rights to some of the airwaves used by the old Verizon system, and began offering high speed Internet access on American Airlines.

The first flight to take to the skies with the Aircell Gogo inflight Internet service was an American Airlines plane on August 20th 2008. But before passengers were able to download their emails in the air, a lot of other milestones had to be reached. I’ll take a closer look at what went on behind the scenes in a separate article.


Relaxed TSA rules for laptop computers at the checkpoint

Things just kept getting better for us in 2008 at the security checkpoint. After years of harassing us, removing our bottles of water, and treating us like terrorists for carrying a nail clipper, the TSA decided it could put a smile on our faces by allowing certain kinds of laptop bags to pass through the security checkpoint without having to remove our laptops from the bag.

In all, it probably saves no more than 20 seconds, but every second counts at the airport, especially when it involves doing what you can to get as far away from the checkpoint as possible.

We entered 2008 with zero TSA friendly laptop bags, and we’ll be bidding it farewell with over 30 different designs, many of which are listed here.


More fees and surcharges

Honestly, I wish this list could contain only happy things. Sadly the year has been pretty rough on the airlines, and when things get rough, they take it out on us.

Fees are what the airlines use to make money, because ticket sales alone apparently don’t work. Clearly someone took a close look at the movie theater business and decided that the expensive popcorn trick would work just fine in the aviation industry.

The worst offender this year was US Airways, but almost every major airline introduced at least one or two new ways to make some money.


New runways

While some airports are still stuck with just a single runway, others can’t get enough of them to keep things flowing.

New tarmac was opened this year at Dulles, Seattle and Chicago. The Dulles runway was their first new one since 1946, and is expected to handle over 100,000 flights a year.

Of course, Chicago’s O’Hare airport was probably the one most in need of a new runway, as they had been operating under special flow control restrictions for several years due to congestion.

The new runway in Chicago is part of a much larger “masterplan” to expand the airport, which includes a new ATC tower and terminal renovations.

In other good news, those awful people movers at Dulles are scheduled to be scrapped later next year!


New airlines, new routes and new mergers

It sucks to be a legacy carrier. You are doing everything you can to keep your fleet in the sky, and newcomers like Virgin America and OpenSkies pop up, acting like they own the place.

The thing is, many people are so fed up with the state of air travel, that these new carriers are a very welcome addition. Why fly the “friendly skies”, when you can fly an airline that actually is friendly?

In 2008, JetBlue started flying Chicago to Boston, Virgin America added 6 new routes, including New York to Vegas and OpenSkies (a British Airways subsidiary) started flights from New York to Paris and Amsterdam.

And finally, in the “if you can’t beat em, buy em” department; Delta airlines purchased Northwest airlines bringing 2 of the more decent airlines in the skies together as one. One thing is for sure; 2009 is going to be a bumpy ride for many airlines.

Inflight Internet on Delta arrives just in time for the Holiday season

A mere 4 months after the initial announcement, Delta Airlines and Aircell are kicking off the launch of the first 6 aircraft with inflight Internet access tomorrow.

We have been covering Aircell and their Gogo inflight Internet service for some time now, and I’ve been quite impressed by the speed at which they are getting the equipment installed on aircraft. The first Delta planes with broadband Internet access will be on 5 of the MD-88 shuttle fleet and one 757.

Aircraft with the service can be recognized by a “Wi-Fi hotspot” decal next to the boarding door.

If this good news wasn’t enough to make you happy, Aircell also let me know that access to the service will be free till the end of the year. You’ll find the Gogo Inflight Internet equipped aircraft on Delta Shuttle routes between LaGuardia and Boston, as well as LaGuardia and Washington Reagan. The 757 will be flying regular domestic flights, so make sure to check for that decal!

The current schedule for adding inflight Internet to the Delta fleet is to have 10 aircraft in operation by the end of the year, and to have the entire fleet outfitted by the end of 2009. Once the Delta branded fleet has been outfitted, engineers will begin work on the Northwest Airlines fleet, which is now part of Delta.

2009 is going to be a fantastic year for those of us who need more than an inflight movie to stay entertained, and once Internet is more readily available, I’m convinced that some people may even change their airline loyalty to pick an airline that has invested in this kind of service. So far, 4 airlines have commited to the Aircell Gogo service (American Airlines, Air Canada, Delta/Northwest and Virgin America).

Other tales from the skies
Amazing and insane stories from a real-life flight attendant and co-pilot