Row 44

In-flight Wi-Fi a swing-vote for road warriors?


Several airlines are testing in-flight Wi-Fi on a few planes and recently Southwest and Alaska airlines climbed on board with their satellite version of the service, courtesy of Row 44.

I tested the service out yesterday on Alaska Airline’s “Wi-Fi One” plane, flying back and forth between Seattle and Orange County.  There were two guys on board who were flying the plane specifically to check out the service, but otherwise the only way folks knew this was “the Wi-Fi plane” was if they noticed the big decal by the door (I admit, at first I didn’t) and if they read the big card in their seatback pocket.

Once folks did discover the service – which is complimentary during the test period – they used it, talked about it to their seatmates and across the aisles and, of course, sent e-mail messages: “Guess where I’m writing from.”

The service was a bit sluggish on the return trip, which got folks talking even more, but generally once travelers got connected, they seemed delighted to have this new amenity as an in-flight option.

Would frequent travelers choose to fly one airline over another based on the availability of Wi-Fi?  “It’s the right play. I would definitely lean towards a flight with Wi-Fi,” one passenger told me, “and I would have no problem paying a premium for the service.”

We’ll see: one of the questions in the survey passengers are asked to fill out when they sign-on to the in-flight Wi-Fi is “How much would you be willing to pay for this service?”

Southwest Wi-Fi to filter for pornography

Earlier this week, Southwest Airlines announced that it was finally testing in-flight Wi-Fi on two planes and plans to being testing the service on four planes in just a few weeks.

The service is provided by Row 44, which provides Wi-Fi via aircraft-to-satellite technology.  The service will be free during an initial testing phase and will allow passengers to access the Internet via laptops, iPhone, and Wi-Fi enabled smart phones.

Cellular phone service won’t work with Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi service. And while VOIP will be blocked for passengers, it will be available for the cockpit and cabin crew.

That opens a lot of possibilities.   Good and bad.

Also, while Southwest is heavily touting the fact that it’s wrapped one of its airplanes with a decal featuring the cover model from the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, according to Row 44’s president and co-founder Gregg Fialcowitz, Southwest Airlines will be filtering on-board Wi-Fi to block sites that might contain pornography.

Sort of a mixed message there, don’t ya think?