Google is bringing back free Wi-Fi to holiday travelers, but with one major difference from last year: Airports are out, more airlines are in.
Delta, AirTran and Virgin America are all participating in the free Wi-Fi offer on all domestic U.S. flights, powered by Gogo. Last year, the offer was valid only on Virgin flights, and at 47 U.S. airports. A splash page will promote Google’s Chrome web browser.
Google wouldn’t explain why it’s ditching airports, only telling TechCrunch that it “decided to focus on the in-flight experience.” Maybe coordinating with all the airports and service providers was trickier than working with three airlines and one service, or maybe not enough people used the free airport Wi-Fi to make Google’s investment worthwhile. Whatever the reason for the change, I’m glad it happened.
You see, I have a slight disdain for airport Wi-Fi as a paid service. As 3G and 4G devices proliferate, the value of paying for Wi-Fi at the airport deteriorates. It’s useful if you’ve got a long layover, a laptop and a lot of work to do, but smartphones are perfectly capable of the basics, like checking e-mail and browsing the Web. That’s usually all I have time for after rushing through security anyway.
In the air, the Internet is a much scarcer resource, and it’s in higher demand. There are no alternatives, and if you’re a techie, you probably have increasing difficulty passing the time without the web. It’s worth paying for, and Google probably stands to gain more good will and to reach more people with in-flight Wi-Fi. By skipping airports and focusing on planes, Google is giving people Wi-Fi where they need it most.