Wi-Fi (Not Snakes) On a Plane?

By  |  Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Hello again from Beijing, where my flight home to San Francisco doesn’t take off for another thirteen hours. When I do hop on my Air China plane, I’m reasonably sure that there will be no Internet access. But I’ve been reading and enjoying Brian Lam’s post over at Gizmodo on his experiences on a Virgin America test flight with in-air Wi-Fi, and I’m salivating a little just thinking about it.

In-flight Internet access and me have a checkered history. A few years ago, I was one of a bunch of journalists invited aboard an airborne press conference for Boeing’s ill-fated Connexion service, and the the service performed dismally in the demo, sputtering along and sometimes pooping out entirely. I would never have paid for it in that state–heck, I probably wouldn’t have bothered if it was free.

A couple of years ago, I forked over $27 to use Connexion on a real flight from Munich to San Francisco, and found it pokey but tolerable. But by then, Boeing had already announced it was killing Connexion, after investing who knows how many gazillions of dollars in launching it.

Anyhow, I’m pleased by the prospect of domestic Wi-Fi becoming available on Virgin America, American, Delta, and other carriers at not-insane prices (Virgin will charge $12.95 for flights over three hours). Virgin’s combination of Wi-Fi and AC power at every seat sounds unbeatable–once it’s up and running, I can’t think of an argument for flying any other carrier on a route that Virgin serves.

But I cheerfully acknowledge that in-flight Net isn’t necessarily an unalloyed boon. You could argue that any flight where you can’t get online provides a therapeutic time-out for those of us who otherwise spend too much time checking e-mail, consulting Wikipedia, perusing blogs, and performing other tasks which human beings got along without perfectly well until just a few years ago. And it’s true that I sort of like being forced to read books and magazines (printed materials! on real paper!) every so often. (I sometimes tote my Kindle, but even then I try to have a magazine or two on hand for takeoffs and landings.)

I’m still stoked, though. And let’s end this with a silly little T-Poll to see if there’s any consensus in the Technologizer community:

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