American and Virgin America to launch in-flight WiFi soon

Guatemala: WiFi cafe sign

A source close to the plans tells BB that American Airlines plans to announce WiFi live on flights to/from JFK, LAX, SFO, and MIA as early as this week (elsewhere, launch dates in July are being reported). Virgin America also plans to launch wireless internet service within their fleet, but based on the unofficial chatter I'm hearing, sounds like a few months further down the line for them.

As airlines hard-hit by rising fuel costs scramble to create new forms of incremental revenue, I'd bet these two US carriers will be the first of many. Walt Mossberg has an item about this today at the Wall Street Journal, and Scott Beale has a related blog post. VA and AA are both using Denver-based provider Gogo.

I asked a Virgin America representative for clarification on their plans (disclaimer: Boing Boing tv is carried on their in-flight entertainment system, though it's not a source of revenue for us; VA also advertises on, and here's their reply:

1. Virgin America has made public that they are installing WiFi fleet-wide (unlike some other airlines – American & JetBlue who are only doing a few planes)

2. Virgin America has also made public that its product will be more than laptop session access; it will integrate with Red, its inflight entertainment system

3. Virgin America intends to offer products like air-to-ground IM (MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, google talk and Skype, plus SMS)

4. All Virgin America A320s and A319s already have wifi access points installed (2 per plane); the flight attendants currently use them for Red’s food ordering system.

5. Other US airlines (like JetBlue and American) may be first when it comes to touting a wireless product, but Virgin is taking its time to get the product offering right for its guests.

By #5, I think what's being referred to there is the need for airlines to optimize various aspects of the WiFi experience that one doesn't have to think through quite so meticulously on the ground. In the absence of fast, perfect, constant bandwidth, airlines really need to think the client side (airborne apps) through -- what parts to cache, what parts to push through the pipe. A source at VA elaborates:
The ideal solution is to optimize user experience by pre-populating some things (like news for example) on airborne servers, instead of wasting bandwidth with everybody downloading the same thing.
We're also reaching out to AA for comment, and I'll be sure to post their reply in entirety, too.

Image: snapshot I took last week of a sign inside a cafe in Guatemala.



  1. I am curious if Apple (and other “PDA” manufacturers) will address this. With an iPhone “airplane” mode turns off all wireless, try and turn on just WiFi and ALL wireless turns back on. So are iPhone users out of luck?

    And, obviously, if a cellphone powers up while a plane is in flight the plane will surely crash.

  2. Skype? My increased interest in flying Virgin for WiFi is heavily outweighed by my fear that I’ll be stuck next to some idiot yapping into a phone. I’ll pass.

  3. I’m concerned that someone will use a parabolic reflector to concentrate the wi-fi and hijack the plane.

    In the interest of safety, I think I’ll pass.

  4. But won’t the terrists overtake the plane with the WiFi? Think of the Americans!

    If anyone is actually afraid of that (likely) then by definition they already have.

  5. They should block most services that consume high bandwidth (anything that has video or voice). Let people use IM (with text only), mail (cap on downloads) and have a on-board server spreading the news and maybe videos from Red.

    But, is “wi-fly” a good idea? We’ll have to wait and see … hopefully not too late to act.

  6. One of the coolest in-flight experiences I’ve had was using the “Connexion by Boeing” WiFi service that Scandinavian Airlines began offering in early 2005. Being able to sign in to iChat somewhere over Greenland and IM with my buddy Carlo was a pretty awesome thing. He posted about it here:

    It wasn’t cheap at $30 per flight, but definitely worth it – for the novelty alone. Unfortunately, Boeing discontinued the service in August 2006. It was fun while it lasted!

    I’m glad to hear that Virgin is stepping up to the plate; the flights I’ve had with them so far have all been very enjoyable.

  7. I would hazaed that you won’t need to worry about bandwidth sharing – there is no way they are going to charge a reasonable amount for this.

  8. I thought I had read elsewhere that VOIP would be specifically disallowed due to concerns about annoyance as expressed in comment #2.

  9. How is this even news? Mossberg posted his review on the 19th and clearly states that the service, GoGo, from Aircell would launch this week.

    VoIP is blocked, so don’t worry about that.

    The service runs over EV-DO on cell towers.

  10. I just flew JetBlue and saw the webpage promoting the BetaBlue service. No predicting whether you end up on the one plane equipped for it, though. It sounds like it’s email only, selected providers, at least initially.

  11. Okay, numerous airlines around the world have been offering this for years. The only news aspect is that US- based airlines are finally getting over their irrational fear of wireless devices.

    That is all.

  12. Ok, so let me make sure I understand the new rules…

    My cell phone will crash the plane from the time the door closes right up until the moment the wheels touch the ground, after which it instantly becomes safe. My OTHER personal electronic devices, such as a laptop or PSP, are ok if the plane is above 10,000 feet; they don’t assume their plane-crashing power until final approach, but thereafter they maintain it all the way to the gate.

    Connecting to a cell tower or even an in-plane ad-hoc network of your own will still crash the plane, but aiplane super-scientists have developed a new magic wi-fi that doesn’t interfere with the plane’s navigation system if you pay for it. It even works with your device’s existing wi-fi adapter!

    But remember, it’s magic wi-fi and comes through a series of magic ev-do tubes. The connections you’re already paying for are still interwoven with the plane’s navigation system like a metastasized tumor.

    If this all sounds like a crock, perhaps you should refer to the conclusive white paper on the subject in the June issue of the Journal of TSA Science.

  13. I hope the price is like your average cybercafe. If they do it like telephone calls ($5/minute, 3 minute minimum) I’m sticking with books and gods help any moron who keeps me awake. Is passive(-aggressive) RF mischief feasible?

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