Boeing Promises Better In-Flight Wi-Fi

There is no doubt that one of the best innovations in air travel in recent years has been the addition of in-flight Wi-Fi. Not only does it help us to stay more productive, but it is a great way of staying in touch with friends and family, not to mention keeping entertained on a longer flight. Of course, if you’ve ever used wireless Internet while on a plane, you probably know that the quality of the connection varies widely, ranging from incredibly slow to impressively fast – especially considering you’re in a flying tube 30,000 feet above the ground. Now, Boeing is promising to make the experience a much more consistent one thanks to a new method of testing and optimizing the Wi-Fi signal strength in a plane.

Boeing’s new testing process arose from a set of existing proprietary tools that they already used to ensure radio signals from Wi-Fi didn’t interfere with the aircraft’s instrumentation. While using those tools they discovered that they could be fine tuned to help optimize the signal of the wireless router for greater efficiency. They also managed to cut the time for testing down from two weeks to just ten hours, significantly improving an engineers’ ability to improve wireless performance in a short amount of time.

What all of this means for you and I as travelers is that we’ll soon have a much more consistent and useful Wi-Fi connection on longer flights. In their press release touting this improvement, Boeing stated that even people getting up and moving about the cabin could have a detrimental effect on signal strength, but with this new method of testing, they were quickly and more efficiently able to tune the router for better performance, greatly limiting these issues. That’s something that we can all appreciate.

Now, if the airlines would just hurry up and get Wi-Fi working properly on more international flights, I’ll be one happy traveler.

[Photo Credit: EPA via WikiMedia]

5 airlines with great in-flight services in economy class

Last week, I spent 13 hours desperately trying to fall asleep on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London; my economy class seat didn’t have a personal entertainment system and the cabin monitor was pitch black from my angle. The week before, my sister took a red-eye United Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco without the benefit of a pillow, blanket, or snack.

For many airlines, it looks like in-flight services in economy class are going the way of liquids on board. But thankfully, there are still some airlines that understand that service, entertainment, and even a few extras are a part of the customer experience, even for the peons in coach. These five are leading the pack.

Virgin Atlantic
Not only does Virgin offer one of the best personal entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced, they also offer a uniquely British flight experience on their Heathrow-JFK service. From complimentary English publications like Hello and Tatler in the waiting room, to free toiletry kits with socks and eyeshades, to a high tea service with scones and clotted cream, the attention to detail is there.Singapore Airlines
Rated by Zagat as the best international airline for both premium and economy seating, Singapore Airlines spares no expense with their amenities, offering all passengers luxurious Givenchy socks and toothbrush/toothpaste kits. If you happen to snag a seat on their Airbus A380 (say, through this sweet deal) or Boeing 777-300ER planes, you’ll also be able to read digitized versions of publications like the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine on Krisworld, the airline’s award-winning inflight entertainment system.

Though it’s a budget airline, JetBlue’s little extras make the flying experience one of the best in the U.S. Their entertainment systems offer 36 channels of DIRECTV programming, while their complimentary snack selection runs the gamut from Terra Blues chips to animal crackers (who doesn’t love animal crackers?). Plus, their Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights from the West includes free eyeshades and earplugs, plus hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee upon arrival.

Virgin America
Yup, Virgin again. Their American cousins offer sexy dim cabin lighting, standard and USB plugs at every seat, and the ability to easily offset the carbon emissions from your flight through a credit card swipe donation to Plus, from now until January 15, passengers on flights departing from San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK can enjoy free in-flight WiFi on new Google Chromebooks through the Chrome Zone pilot program.

Emirates Airlines
I first flew Emirates Airlines from Tokyo to Dubai when I was 12 years old, and it still sticks out as one of my favorite travel experiences. At the time, I was blown away by one of the first economy class personal entertainment systems in existence, as well as the extra Swiss chocolates snuck to me by the charming flight attendants. These days, Emirates offers 1,200 channels of programming plus telephone, SMS, and e-mail services on their ice entertainment system; regionally inspired multi-course meals with locally sourced ingredients; and cabin lighting specially designed to ease jet lag. I’m betting those chocolates are still there too.

[Flickr image via Richard Moross]

MondoWindow: a new way of looking at in-flight entertainment

Imagine being bored on a plane. It isn’t hard to do.

First, you’re flipping through the in-flight magazine or the Skymall catalog. Then, maybe you watch the movie or whatever 90s-era sitcom the airline has chosen to pump through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system to your seatback screen. If you’re lucky, you brought along your smartphone or tablet, which is stocked with music and e-books. Though, if this is a last-minute jaunt or a return trip, you may not have had the foresight to load new content on your device. The availability of WiFi on your plane is still not a given, either, even though it’s twenty-freaking-eleven. And, don’t even think about getting up to walk the aisles for a few minutes – beverage service is about to start!

IFE has indeed made some strides in the past decade but it is a far cry from the type of interactive entertainment we are now accustomed to on the ground. Enter MondoWindow, a start-up that is seeking to be the “disruptive charge in the $6 billion in-flight entertainment industry-an inefficient, bloated sector that is the last major consumer media space still largely untransformed by the Internet.” Co-founders Greg Dicum and Tyler Sterkel aim to harness the “twin disruptions” now happening in the IFE sector, that of the increasing ubiquity of personal devices, such as tablets and smart phones, and the move towards more internet connectivity aboard aircraft, to make “every seat a window seat.”

Here’s how it works:Navigate over to and you’ll be greeted immediately with the view of the passing terrain from a flight in progress. You can watch the progress of the randomly-generated flight, or track a flight by airline/flight number or airplane tail number. At first glance, this may remind you of the flight status map you see on airplane seatbacks. Look closer at MondoWindow’s live map, and you’ll see points on the map ranging from Wikipedia content and user-submitted Flickr photos to approximately 300 points of interest that the team at MondoWindow have connected to geo-tagged posts on Posterous. All of these interactive push-pins correspond to the points that the plane is passing. This is where the disruption begins.

MondoWindow has built its IFE model around a map. Dicum explains:

“the map is a key piece of any IFE system. It’s the only content that is relevant to absolutely everyone on the plane, and it’s the only content that is unique to the in-flight experience: you can watch TV or movies at home; you can only track your progress across the planet in flight.”

Using the map, wifi, and a growing roster of content, from photos and videos to feature articles and games, MondoWindow brings relevance to the in-flight experience, connecting passengers with the environment – businesses, landmarks, even people – below them. At its most basic, a passenger could tap into MondoWindow for information about the Grand Canyon as she flies over it. A more advanced outlook sees passengers using MondoWindow to participate in geocaching games with persons 30,000 feet below. No doubt, there are possibilities that neither I nor the MondoWindow team, have thought of, especially as interactive technologies develop. When MondoWindow’s map goes global, perhaps passengers could tap into Turkish lessons en route to Istanbul or watch a documentary on The Great Wall as they try to entertain themselves on a long-haul flight to China. MondoWindow’s model has boundless potential for positively disrupting the IFE sector.

MondoWindow is still very young, having only launched its beta site at South by Southwest in March 2011. But it is the “interactive grandchild” from Dicum’s 2004 book Window Seat, which gave airplane geeks, aerial photography enthusiasts, and curious travelers the ability to read the landscape from the air. Paired with Sterkel’s years of experience as a curator and technical project manager for museums such as the Smithsonian and the SFMOMA, MondoWindow has the power to completely change how we view, use, and consume in-flight entertainment. The next step is to get the airlines on board.

JetBlue in-flight internet access coming in 2012, worth the wait?

JetBlue is going to offer in-flight internet access! This is exciting news, right? JetBlue is one of the more exciting airlines in the market right now, having figured out how to offer solid customer service without jacking up fares (a combination the major carriers believe is impossible to attain … despite the fact that JetBlue has done so). So, the airline is getting into the internet game, a space in which it has lagged many other carriers.

Unfortunately, JetBlue isn’t going to begin installing the equipment until the middle of 2012, as it needs to be checked out and approved by the FAA before the airline can put it into production, according to FlightGlobal. The slow start might actually work to JetBlue’s advantage.

Rather than implement the solutions already out on the market, JetBlue has selected a different type of internet access technology, which should translate to better internet service for its passengers – which pairs well with the high levels of customer service the airline already offers. Unlike existing internet access systems, which interact with the ground, the JetBlue system will hit satellites. JetBlue CEO Dave Barger explains to FlightGlobal:

“In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations. Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today’s interactive personal technology needs.”

Barger also says, “This system will be designed for the 21st century, not just for today’s personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow’s needs as well.”

[Via Business Insider]

Cathay Pacific to launch in-flight WiFi; mobile device connectivity

It’s one thing to connect in-flight from coast-to-coast, it’s another thing to connect when you’re flying across the world! Travel writers, business executives, and Internet-junkies rejoice: Cathay Pacific has just announced it will launch long-haul in-flight WiFi in 2012!

The Hong Kong-based airline plans to roll out broadband Internet onboard their fleet and Dragonair planes starting in early 2012, thanks to some help from Panasonic Avionics Corporation, a worldwide supplier of in-flight entertainment and communication systems.

The in-flight fun will feature eXConnect broadband service and eXPhone GSM phone service but here’s where it gets really exciting: as part of the service, you’ll get the Cathay Pacific-branded free-of-charge entertainment portal, which is accessible through all passenger devices (read: iPads, PDAs, etc.) and seatback screens. Readers: take a moment to digest that information — we realize it’s pretty big news.

Here’s more straight from Cathay Pacific:

eXPhone, offered in collaboration with AeroMobile’s GSM mobile phone technology, allows passengers to use their mobile phones, smart phones and BlackBerry devices onboard to make voice calls, send SMS text messages or utilise data services and stream content wirelessly to their iPod, iPhone and iPad. eXPhone gives the airline flexibility and full control over the services offered including restricting certain services when appropriate.

According to Cathay, the in-flight entertainment options will include a range of content updated during the flight, access to airline and partner sites, e-commerce, airline-specific advertising, and live television with pay-per-view capability for special events.

Couple this with Cathay Pacific’s business class cabin and I might just move into the plane.