Wi-Fi on Airplanes Finally Coming

I’m not on an airplane again until 2010 (1/6/10 to be exact when I head to Las Vegas for CES) which is a relief since I flew 87 segments 2009.  Ok – not as much as Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air (very good BTW) but enough to decide to boycott United whenever possible.

One pleasant surprise on a flight from DEN to OAK on SWA was the presence of Wi-Fi.  I paid my $12 and worked online for two hours instead of using my airplane sleeping superpower.  Little did I know that I was on one of the four planes in the SWA fleet of 500 that had Wi-Fi according to the Gizmodo Complete Inflight Wi-Fi Cheat Sheet.

I think 2010 is the year that Wi-Fi will finally roll out across the domestic airline fleet.  It’s been in the works since 2000 and I remembered waiting, and waiting, and waiting for Connexion to roll out.  And then forgetting about it.  Until sometime earlier this year when Virgin America started offering in-flight Wi-Fi and quickly became my (and many of my friends) method of transport between the east coast and the west coast.  Todd Dagres from Spark Capital nailed it when he tweeted (presumably from an airplane) “True fact – planes with WiFi travel 2x faster than planes without.”

There is something magical about sitting on a seat in a giant metal tube that is flying 30,000 feet above the earth and playing FarmVille.  It finally feels like this is going to happen in 2010.  Hopefully there will be a lot more FarmVille than Skype on airplanes, although if everyone on the plane is on Skype at the same time it probably won’t bother anyone – too much. 

If you are traveling on a flight using Gogo Inflight Internet, My Money Blog has published a set of promotional codes that will give you free Wi-Fi through 1/7/10.  Oh – and join the Gizmodo Mile High Club while you are at it.

And one final question – is it “Wi-Fi” or “WiFi”?  That’ll keep the airline marketing weenies busy for a while trying to figure out the right answer.

  • Mark MacAuley

    Great update. I love Virgin America for East-West travel. I was bummed when they canned the 2 pm flight from SFO-BOS but I still fly them whenever I can. Delta has done a very so-so job in their rollout, and I would love to see CLEAR and Wi-Fi rolled out in 2010.

    Speaking of which – why is the TSA trying to pull a CLEAR-esque move by capturing more personal info with no upside like moving to the head of the line? They claim it's to make flying safer, which in my mind means that those of us who fly a lot should get to move through security ahead of those who havent flown post 9-11…

    • I’m regularly baffled by the moves of the TSA.

  • I was surprised to see that WiFi was available on an AA flight from Boston to SF last week. Didn't use it b/c my laptop's WiFi wasn't working.

    How's the speed when using these services in the air?

    • In general my experiences have been fine.  It’s a little slow sometimes, and there are choppy spots, but more than adequate.

  • Wifi or Wi-fi? I think it is WiFly.

    • Aha!  Yes – WiFly is the right one.  Clever.

  • had WiFi on my MSP-ATL delta flight a couple of weeks back but didnt try it out. Was really shocked it was on our MD-88 and not the 767 we took from ATL-SLC

  • If people start talking on Skype on flights I'm going to have do something drastic. By which I mean start a Facebook group. And if we've learned anything from social networking, it's that no socially abhorrent behavior has survived the creation of a Facebook group.

    • My father's generation would have stagged sit-ins or written a congressman. My generation starts a facebook group. Oh how times have changed…

      • Ha, well, it should have been clear that I was kidding. My likely response is going to be to turn on my noise-canceling headphones and crank up the Jayhawks. Staging a sit-in in an uncomfortable and likely-to-not-recline airplane seat would certainly make a statement, though.

  • If they have anything remotely like this in Asia, it would be fantastic monetization possibilities given the lack of options on board short flights in Asia.


  • >And one final question – is it “Wi-Fi” or “WiFi”? That’ll keep the airline marketing weenies busy for a while trying to figure out the right answer.

    The correct trademark and copyrighted term is: Wi-Fi.

    The Wi-Fi trademark was created by the Wi-Fi alliance. Certain politico's claim that a branding firm invented the term. But the truth is that a friend of mine, David Cohen of Sunnyvale, came up with "Wi-Fi". The IEEE 802.11 folks were unhappy at the time, that WECA (the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance), formed to insure interoperability of 802.11 solutions, and to promote it commercially, were being so crass as to use the term "Ethernet". So they needed something else, and out of the "Wireless Fidelity" (Wi-Fi) was born.

    imho, the Wi-Fi alliance hasn't done the greatest job of protecting the Wi-Fi brand, as I see "WiFi" (and other errant) banners on hotels (etc) all over the place – typically, on banner signs displayed at Hotels. But this does provide me an opportunity to rib David about not enforcing his hypen, and capitalization:)

    My Silicon Valley Networking Lab (SVNL) was the exclusive certification facility for over 10,000 Wi-Fi products from 1998 to 2005; but the Wi-Fi alliance has always controlled the branding. I have always liked the branding concept behind "Wireless Fidelity"; but think they could have done a better job of creating a brand name which is less prone to errors. And the black & white Wi-Fi logo is downright painful to look at; every time I see it on the door of some retail establishment, i have a cringe and a chuckle.

    May become a Harvard Case study some day, in how "not" to do it. On the other hand, Wi-Fi is definitely a "household name", at least verbally, if not in print… and you can't argue with success like that!


    • Excellent story – thanks for sharing.  I had no idea about your connection to this – very cool.

  • thanks for share

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