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Delta makes its skies friendlier for Wi-Fi

August 5, 2008 |  1:21 pm
Delta

As The Times' Peter Pae aptly wrote in June, Wi-Fi is heading skyward. And today, Delta announced it will begin offering the service -- for a fee -- on its domestic flights this fall. The airline expects to outfit 330 planes by next summer, making it the first major U.S. carrier to offer Wi-Fi on its entire domestic fleet (not including regional subsidiaries such as its Comair service).

"Our customers asked for in-flight connectivity, and we’re responding by rolling out the most extensive Wi-Fi network in the sky," said Richard Anderson, Delta’s chief executive officer.  "Beginning this fall, our passengers will have the ability to stay connected when they travel with us throughout the continental U.S.”

Delta will use Aircell's Gogo service, (not to be confused with the 1980s all-girl band, the Go-Gos). Billed as  "Wi-Fi with wings," the service will cost a flat fee of $9.95 for flights three hours or less and $12.95 for flights more than three hours. Delta will offer it first on its MD88 and MD90 planes and expand to its Boeing 737s, 757s (like the one pictured above) and 767s by the summer of 2009, the company said.

American Airlines has been testing Gogo and plans to offer it on selected flights, including those from LAX to New York's JFK. Virgin America also will be offering the service, according to Aircell.

Gogo says it turns the plane's cabin into a Wi-Fi hot spot, allowing laptops, smart phones and PDAs to access the Internet. (Cellphone calls are still forbidden in U.S. skies, although the European Union said this spring it was taking that technological plunge.)

Aircell said everyone on a flight can log on to Gogo, with the system prioritizing the Web traffic to keep the data flowing. It can accommodate streaming audio and video but will not support Skype or other voice-over-Internet services.

Aircell said its optimization and caching technology makes Gogo's two-megabit-per-second connection to the ground act like a 15 mbps connection. But it's unclear if Web requests will stack up like planes on the LAX runway during bad weather if too many people decide to watch YouTube or stream movies at the same time.

Still, with airlines increasingly charging for things that used to be free, as our colleagues at the Daily Travel & Deal Blog pointed out today, passengers might appreciate something new and useful when they're forking over an extra fee. 

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Jim Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington, D.C.

Photo: A Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200. Credit: Chris O'Meara / Associated Press.

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