Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Winner of Race to Wi-Fi Every Flight:: Virgin America

I love it. It's almost as if some fun has returned to the airline business, which badly needs some.

Last week, AirTran cleverly surprised Delta by announcing that it, AirTran, would be the first to have its whole fleet outfitted with Wi-Fi. By mid-summer, AirTran said, all of its 86 Boeing 717s and 50 Boeing 737s would have the Aircell Gogo Wi-Fi service on board.

That move pulled AirTran ahead of the morning favorite, Delta, which has been busily converting all 300 of its mainline domestic planes to Aircell's Wi-Fi system. A day before AirTran's surprise announcement, Delta evidently got wind of it and hastily put out an announcement saying that it had already converted half of its mainline domestic fleet, and would have all of the fleet converted by September.

And then on the outside here comes scrappy Virgin American today -- and Virgin is the winnah! Virgin America says it now offers Aircell Wi-Fi on every one of its 100 daily flights.

(Okay, Virgin has only 26 planes flying in its fleet (A320s and A319s), but fair is fair. They win the race.)

By the way, Virgin offers a plus: power outlets available for every seat, including in coach. Without power outlets, Wi-Fi users are limited by the life of their batteries.

The Gogo service on Virgin costs $12.95 for daytime flights of over three hours, $9.95 for daytime flights of less than three hours, $5.95 on red-eye flights and $7.95 for handheld devices.

Aircell is busily converting planes at locations all over the country, often working all-night shifts to do so. By the end of this year, Aircell expects to have 1,000 domestic airliners, from various airlines, equipped with WiFi.


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