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 boingboing.net), 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.