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Airlines to Offer In-Flight Internet Service 181

Posted by Zonk
from the can't-ever-get-away-from-the-email dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "JetBlue Airways will soon begin testing a free e-mail and instant messaging service on one aircraft, while American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a broader Web experience in the coming months, probably priced at about $10 a flight. A recent survey found that 26 percent of leisure travelers would pay $10 for Internet access on a two-to-four-hour flight and 45 percent would pay that amount for a flight longer than four hours. The airlines plans to turn their planes into the equivalent of a wireless hot spot once the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude but service will not be available on takeoff and landing. While the technology could allow travelers to make phone calls over the Internet, most carriers say they have no plans to allow voice communications."
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Airlines to Offer In-Flight Internet Service

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  • No Voice? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gambit3 (463693) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:28AM (#21611205) Homepage Journal
    "most carriers say they have no plans to allow voice communications."

    and how could they limit that? wouldn't it all be packets at that point?
    • Re:No Voice? (Score:5, Informative)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:37AM (#21611309) Homepage Journal
      They could easily block ports commonly used for VoIP and/or VoIP proxies. In fact, they could make all Internet access go through a proxy server, just like they do in a corporate setting. This is getting to be increasingly common in hotel Internet access.
      • Which doesn't necessarily mean anything. Holes can be punched in firewalls. Skype is particularly good at that, for example. I suspect we'll see plenty of VoIP calls being made from aircraft, assuming that latency isn't excessive.
      • For once, I'm going to say that I hope they do block those ports and have flight attendants tell people to stop using voice communication. When I'm stuck in a plane, I don't want to be forced to listen to your phone call.
        • by leenks (906881)
          When I'm stuck in a plane, I don't want to be forced to listen to you talking to the guy/gal in the seat next to you. I certainly don't want to hear you guffawing at Ugly Betty or whatever you are watching.
          When I'm stuck in a plane, I don't want to be forced to listen to your screaming baby.
          When I'm stuck in a plane, I don't want to be forced to listen to your kids whining "Mommy, how much longer"
          When I'm stuck in a plane, I don't want to be forced to get up as soon as the food has been served because you n
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by yesteraeon (872571)
        Correct me if I'm wrong but one really easy way around this would be an encrypted VPN connection. They could probably block VPN connections. However, I'm betting a lot of the market for such a service would be people staying in touch with their offices. For many of these people, the value of an internet connection that doesn't allow VPN is significantly reduced. And obviously I'm just speculating, but the number of people willing to pay $10 might go down significantly once they know about restrictions such
      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        Yeah, and it's not like you could use VPN, SSH, DNS or ICMP tunneling to bypass that. Oh wait, you can..

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Opportunist (166417)
      By plugging ports and shaping traffic?

      It's likely that they'll do what they can to avoid having someone transmit large amounts of data through a presumably quite expensive link.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by sherms (15634) *
        "By Plugging in ports", Please for give me, but this makes me have a flashback to Die hard 4. I can see it know, There going to have some of the same actors from that show, make a Die hard 5, where Bruce and that other kid (Hacker from die hard 4) happen to be on the same plane while Terrorists, take control of the plane (Via the on board internet). Making the government think they are going to crash it into some famous location. They still manage to crash and get just cuts and scratches and only a few dead
        • Okay, now I've ruined the plot for Die Hard 5.
          I'll submit that, just as for Die Hard 2,3, and 4, the plot likely began in a ruined state.
      • Expensive for YOU, not them. If 25% (to use the lower #) of the 350 people on a widebody plane used the service during the flight that would be 80 people times $10, thats $800 revenue PER FLIGHT. That's like selling another two or three tickets. The equipment such as the router and wiring (assuming they won't do wireless) will add weight to the plane increasing fuel costs a few dollars a flight. The cost of the equipment might run an few 1000's but that'll be written off. So there is a LOT of profit to them
        • Re:No Voice? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:58AM (#21612199) Homepage Journal
          Chances are it will be satellite based internet anyway, making it useless for interactive games (you could play a card game or something like that, but FPS/RTS/etc... are right out thanks to the high latency).

          I've always wondered just how much money the airlines make from those seatphones. I've never seen anybody use one, ever.
          • by antdude (79039)
            I wonder how the speed is. I know latencies suck. I had friends who went on cruises and said the Internet speed sucked big time. Almost like dial-up speeds.
        • by russotto (537200)
          POTS is 56kbit per second (7 bits at 8000 symbols per second), not 8kbit. Standard compression algorithms can cut it to about half that, but not all the way down to 8kbit.
      • Plugging ports and shaping traffic is the worst thing they could possibly do. Instead of having normal conversations, everybody will be shouting...

        • "Hello, can you hear me now?"
        • "I can hear you just fine, how about IF I SPEAK LIKE THIS? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"
        • "I'll try changing the bandwidth setting on my VoIP client. I'll call you right back." (One minute later...) "Is this better now?"
        • "What? My voice sounds choppy? I'm calling from a plane, isn't it amazing that anything works at all?"
        • (Ring, Ri

    • That sounds to me like a recipe for FAIL. I guess they could make the connection high latency and low bandwidth - i.e. crappy.
    • Re:No Voice? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:40AM (#21611353)
      "most carriers say they have no plans to allow voice communications."

      Funny that most airlines have had in-seat phones on planes for over a decade...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        But not on all planes. I've been on three flights recently, a 737, a DC-10 and a 767, none of of which had in-seat phones, at least not in coach. It's possible that first class had them on the 767, but I know that first class did not have them on the 737 (I sat directly behind first class). The DC-10 didn't offer first class seating.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by notthe9 (800486)
          The phones seem to be fading away. I think they didn't make money on them.
      • by D-Cypell (446534) *
        Funny that most airlines have had in-seat phones on planes for over a decade...

        Even funnier that these phones are incredibly expensive to use, and the airlines want to prevent people using free VOIP while onboard.
      • by boredMDer (640516)
        I haven't flown in ~2 years, but I haven't seen a phone in-flight for maybe two-three years of flying back when I did.

        That's roughly '02-'05, mostly smaller jets but some large Boeings (a 747 or so, I believe...I'm no good at identifying planes for the most part). All of this was in coach, so who knows in first class.
    • Re:No Voice? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Asic Eng (193332) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:44AM (#21611395)
      and how could they limit that?

      By telling you "voice communication will not be allowed".

      wouldn't it all be packets at that point?

      Not at the point where you talk into the microphone. It's pretty easy to detect, and given just how annoying it is to sit next to a person talking into their cell phone ... it wouldn't take long for your seat neighbour would complain to the stewardess.

      • Not at the point where you talk into the microphone. It's pretty easy to detect, and given just how annoying it is to sit next to a person talking into their cell phone ... it wouldn't take long for your seat neighbour would complain to the stewardess.
        ----

        This doesn't seem like a good reason since they allow phonecalls on their backseat phones -- the same problem would exist.

        Second problem: "I call bullshoot!" From your description, I don't think you have ever sat next to someone on a cellphone while they w
    • Re:No Voice? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by porcupine8 (816071) on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:21AM (#21611753) Journal
      Pretty easily: "I'm sorry sir, I'm going to have to ask you to turn that off to avoid disturbing other passengers."
    • by xtracto (837672)
      While the technology could allow travelers to make phone calls over the Internet, most carriers say they have no plans to allow voice communications."

      Please excuse my ignorance but, wouldn't there be a problem of lattency (lag)?
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Maybe they could only allow internet access through the consoles in the back of the seats. With control of the programs on these consoles, they could completely control what kind of services you could access.
  • Worst nightmare (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wombatmobile (623057) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:30AM (#21611215)

    FTA: "Many travelers find the prospect of phone calls much less palatable than having a seatmate quietly browsing e-mail."

    Yes. Imagine sitting in the center seat between two obese passengers talking non-stop about things you don't want to know about.

    What would you do?

    What could you possibly do at that point?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by tknn (675865)
      Hope that they smother you to end the pain...
    • by FinestLittleSpace (719663) * on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:02AM (#21611555)
      I've always been interested why people have a bigger issue with people talking on the phone than talking to a friend on a plane/train.

      Admittedly if it's loud, it's annoying, but what's so different about a phone than a face to face conversation?
      • Someone will likely bring out a study that concludes that your brain interprets one-sided conversations differently than if you hear both sides of the conversation.

        Personally, I think that some people just wouldn't like the person next to them at all. Cell phone or not.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by frenchbedroom (936100)

          Someone will likely bring out a study that concludes that your brain interprets one-sided conversations differently than if you hear both sides of the conversation.

          That, and the fact that phone conversations are extremely phatic [wikipedia.org] by nature. Not only do you get much less than 100% of the information, but most of the babble that's going on isn't information at all, which to you will gradually translate from a mild irritation at such a boring stream of uninteresting yakking, to eventually snatching the annoyer

      • by porcupine8 (816071) on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:24AM (#21611791) Journal
        For the same reason that it's ok to talk to your seatmate but not to your friend sitting three rows away. You talk quietly to someone sitting right next to you, but for some reason many people seem to feel it's necessary to project into the phone inches from their mouth. I think it has something to do with the fact that cel phones, unlike receivers on traditional phones, don't actually reach to your mouth anymore, so people subconciously feel the need to make up for that - plus, of course, if your signal isn't so hot you might actually NEED to speak up. Either way, it's far louder and more annoying.
      • by kidgenius (704962) on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:50AM (#21612073)
        A couple of differences, one being is that during a face to face conversation, you tend to not talk extremely loud. Some phones incorporate a slight "echo" so that you can actually hear yourself talking (much like landlines). Many phones don't, and what ends up happening is people yell into the phone, which is exactly what Alexander Graham Bell discovered when he first invented the thing. Additionally, we perceive face-to-face conversations as normal. Cellphone conversations are just weird to us humans (being a relatively new thing). Also, and perhaps slightly more nosy, people like to listen to other people's conversations, and when you can only hear one half of the conversation, it probably annoys people on some unconscious level. It's just programmed into us that communication exists face-to-face, or at least that's how it primarily has been for eons.
        • by EMeta (860558)
          More than that, conversations in person are naturally regulated by the ambient noise level. (Most easily noticed when someone ignores these queues.) Phone conversations don't provide this same information to both parties, so the volume tends to be less related to ambient noise, and thus often louder.
      • by Fozzyuw (950608)

        I've always been interested why people have a bigger issue with people talking on the phone than talking to a friend on a plane/train.

        I've always been interested in why people find it ok to fart in the bathroom but not on the couch with your sweetheart?

        Admittedly if it's loud, it's annoying, but what's so different about a fart in the bathroom to a face to face fart?

        Cheers,
        Fozzy

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)
        >Admittedly if it's loud, it's annoying, but what's so different about a phone than a face to face conversation?

        There's a name for this but it escapes me current, but the idea is that our brains are hard-wired to pick up speech. When we hear both sides of the conversation (two people talking) then we realize that we arent being spoken to so we tune it out. when we only hear one side of the conversation (guy talking into phone) we subconsciously think "hey, someone is speaking, perhaps they are speaking t
    • by mikael (484)
      Put one some headphones and play a video on my laptop, like this one [The Two Ronnies - crossed lines [youtube.com], or just listen to other music.
    • by fmobus (831767)

      Ze germans do something amazing on their trains! There is a Ruhezone (lit. tranquility zone) where talking, listening to music, making noise in general is strictly forbidden. Something like that should be done in airplanes too.

      In Japan, talking on the cell phone on subways is frowned upon (forbidden? I'm not sure), it is not uncommon for people to forcibly shut done your phone if you're yapping.

  • by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan,jared&gmail,com> on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:33AM (#21611245)
    "I think 2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available..."

    Note to everyone, declaring this "the year of implementation x of tech y" automatically sets that tech back indefinitely. This is how this will work out now. The service will be used for years by technically elite fliers who rave over its superior stability when compared to ground based wi-fi. Then several years down the road a group with the motto "airline wifi for humans" will again attempt to make the year of "in-flight internet access", only to realize that the people are still reluctant to adopt it. It's a proven paradigm.

    So remember, if you are passionate about a technology, do not declare this "the year of it," as you are only hurting it.
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:41AM (#21611367) Homepage Journal

      So remember, if you are passionate about a technology, do not declare this "the year of it," as you are only hurting it.
      Well, in that case I declare that 2008 will be the year of Vista on the desktop!
      • by xaxa (988988)

        So remember, if you are passionate about a technology, do not declare this "the year of it," as you are only hurting it.
        Well, in that case I declare that 2008 will be the year of Vista on the desktop!
        The emphasised bit is important ;-)
    • by rolfwind (528248)
      How is it hurting it? You're just making people aware of it, although they might come away a little disappointed the first time when comparing reality to the hype.

      But that may not be a bad thing to bring people in before it's truly ready. I was first introduced to Linux back 10 years ago, and I went away thinking it was not ready for regular desktop use for a normal person. But that first version was my baseline, and as the years went by, I came away more and more impressed with what the Linux communitie
      • Well I see you got my allusion to "the year of linux on the desktop." You see the problem is not that I think calling this "the year of something," instead it's the fact that people keep taking my jokes seriously (see my sig for proof). Apparently what I thought was an absurd allegory for the trials of linux was actually an insightful and interesting commentary on marketing technology. Moderation confuses me more often than not now.
      • by SL Baur (19540)

        But that may not be a bad thing to bring people in before it's truly ready.
        We've been told that cellphones and notebooks with wireless internet access may have deadly interference with the airplane's avionics and communications systems. What has changed? Inquiring minds want to know!
        • What has changed? Inquiring minds want to know

          Maybe because the aircraft and the associated internal network is designed for it at the start.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          What has changed? Inquiring minds want to know!
          They weren't making money off of it before.

    • by Solandri (704621)

      "I think 2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available..."

      Note to everyone, declaring this "the year of implementation x of tech y" automatically sets that tech back indefinitely.

      But it's already been available [wikipedia.org]. I used it on a transatlantic Lufthansa flight in 2006 just before Boeing shut it down. Tunneled into my company's LAN via VPN and printed some stuff onto an office printer from the middle of the Atlantic at 36,000 feet, just so I could say I've

  • Seems a little arbitrary...
  • offtopic (Score:4, Funny)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:37AM (#21611305)
    Unrelated to in-flight internet service, but has anyone ever tried playing a flight simulator on a laptop while on a plane? I'd love to see how quickly you could get yourself kicked off by doing that. : p
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Zebedeu (739988)
      Bonus fun if you're middle-eastern-looking and keep flying your plane into buildings :-)
      • by tgd (2822)
        Now admittedly I haven't played Flight Simulator since version 1 or 2... but I seem to remember I was hitting buildings a lot. I didn't have much choice, there was like 3-4 buildings in Chicago or the ground to hit.
    • by MorePower (581188)
      I've done that before, years ago. Tried to fly the same route as the actual plane I was on too (didn't work so well). Nobody noticed at all.
  • w00t (Score:2, Funny)

    by ByKai (1199767)
    w00t a flying cyber cafe! Now we just need some starcraft CDs and a bunch of angry koreans to scream at each other
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:41AM (#21611361)
    Yes, we'll see the first planes with this service in 2008. On lines that are heavily contested and where competition is high, so passengers will choose carrier X over Y because they can get internet access. Don't count on it being available on domestic flights where only one or two lines have already split the market up between them, or on lines that are overbooked anyway.

    Not to mention that the first planes to be fitted with this will take off in 2008 (allegedly). That doesn't mean that every plane there is will suddenly become equipped with it. Usually, such things take a long, long time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Correct. And given that most of us choose flights that are not nonstop (i.e., flights with layovers) due to their cost usually being much lower than nonstop flights (though this is not always the case), you probably won't wind up on too many domestic flights that are more than 4 hours anyway. So unless you travel overseas, you're probably not likely to see this very much in 2008.

  • Very well (Score:1, Interesting)

    by joaommp (685612)
    It would be nice for long courses. But I do not believe not many people will really be using it except netmaniacs that spend 12+hour daily on the net (like me) or business people who need to be constanly online (oh... like me too). Other people will rather take a nap and not even bother turning the laptop on.

    What about connection speeds? Data limits? Which satellites? Connection stability?
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Friday December 07, 2007 @09:44AM (#21611397) Homepage Journal
    ...but I need a power source. I usually travel with my "lite" laptop, and a spare battery, but even that's not always enough. Some of my flights (ORD->BOM) last nearly 20 hours (with 1 stop, where I could theoretically recharge somewhere).

    I don't mind paying upwards of $40 for a flight for web access, actually, but I'd assume few others would. Speed/latency isn't an issue, but I do wonder how well it would work over large bodies of water.
    • Some planes do have in-seat power. The Airbus A330-300 which I've flown to Europe many many times has in-seat power in coach. In fact, Lufthansa (Germany's national airline) had free wifi last year on their transatlantic Boeing jets. Not sure what happened to that service, but it was great...only problem was THOSE jets didn't have power. Just bring extra batteries for your laptop I suppose :)
    • If you're willing to pay 40 bucks a flight for simple internet access you'd think you'd be willing to spend a bit more and buy an extra battery for the laptop.
    • by elinenbe (25195)
      Almost all seats now include either a plane power adapter or a standard plug. If you will pay $40/flight, you can surely buy an air adapter.
      • by MorePower (581188)
        Almost all seats have power outlets? And yet despite having a job where I fly dozens of times every year, I have yet to see one of these mythical in-seat power outlets.
    • by kidgenius (704962)
      I know this won't help you in your case, but American Airlines MD-80's (a fairly old aircraft) have power adapters in coach under the seats. When you book your next flight, check out Seat Guru [seatguru.com] and it will tell you if a particular aircraft has power adapters.
    • It works great over water. I used Boeing's Connexion service in ANA to and from Tokyo before the plug was pulled last December. A Skype test call was a little "chunky", but web, POP, and SSH sessions were OK.
  • Two things... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    1) This has been tried before - Lufthansa? United? Wasn't popular.

    2) If they don't provide power plugs at the seats, it'll be a 1-2 hour internet experience before the blasted battery drains...

    Note: American Airlines, to its credit, provides power to about half the seats in coach.

    Note to self: sell tickets when the first networked FPS game occurs and the staff, well, melts down :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by squidguy (846256)
      ) This has been tried before - Lufthansa? United? Wasn't popular.
      Actually, it was very popular on Lufthansa. The problem was that Boeing (owned Connexion) wasn't seeing much ROI across all the airlines and couldn't keep the service running for its limited deployment throughout the carriers. US airlines couldn't afford to install it, generally.
  • ...what about during waiting time on the ground at the gate after the door is shut or sitting on the taxiway? If not then, then they're missing a big opportunity to pacify some agitated customers.
  • I keep hearing say this is coming, but when is someone actually going to go through with actually doing it?
  • Trekkie Monster was right! Can't wait for the first time a flight attendant has to ask a customer to stop surfing for porn.
    • by jcuervo (715139)

      Trekkie Monster was right! Can't wait for the first time a flight attendant has to ask a customer to stop surfing for porn.
      Even better: airpwning everyone. Think "the first intercontinental plane crash directly attributable to Goatse".

  • Unless JetBlue/LiveTV acquired another license, they're seriously bandwidth limited. In 2006 they got a license [wikipedia.org] to use a 1 MHz slice in the 841 to 851 MHz spectruum. Increasing the number of ground stations and using directional antennas helps, but we're definitely not talking anywhere near broadband speeds if they're still using that spectrum (which used to be used by GTE Airfone).
  • by PinkyDead (862370) on Friday December 07, 2007 @10:24AM (#21611783) Journal
    "We are experiencing a little RIAA turbulence and so the Captain has turned on the no downloading sign. Please refrain from downloading anything until the airplane has come to a complete stop and you are safely within the terminal building."
  • I don't get it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SL Baur (19540)
    We've been told that notebook computers with wireless internet and cellphones interfere with the avionics and are dangerous and must be kept off the entire flight. Now internet access from planes is O.K. What has changed?

    Just asking.

    -sb (dreading the horribly long flight across the Pacific he faces to go home for Christmas)
    • The cellphones interfere with the towers on the ground.
      • by SL Baur (19540)
        There aren't very many towers in the Pacific Ocean and the passage over Guam and Hawaii doesn't seem to me to be a real problem.
    • My understanding is that the original reason for banning cellphone use in the air was not based on a concern for the plane's electronics, but rather than the switches on the ground did not have the capacity to handle the rapid switching between cells that jet based users would require. Apparently this is no longer the case, and hasn't been for several years, as the 9/11 passengers using cell phones proved.
      This may be another case of a rule that once made sense, that no-one wants to revisit.
  • No room anyway (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SoundGuyNoise (864550)
    Call me when there's even enough room to open my laptop to a viewable angle.
  • So is this the end of the flight attendent shpeal that goes something like this:

    "OMG WTF!? Turn off all your wireless devices or we'll all die!"
  • Woot! I currently live up here, and though I'm planning on moving out of state, I'll probably come back up here every year or so to visit family. Alaska Airlines has always been on of the best in the country, as far as service goes, glad to see them leading the way with this as well.
  • If someone can just incorporate the following into a post:

    - pr0n

    - the phrase "...in their upright position before landing..."

    that would be great, thanks.
  • Guess what, if you allow data, you allow anything. "Voice" can be stored as "data". And while perhaps the providers could block well-know ports used for VoIP services, they'd have a hard time blocking a port-hopping protocol. In fact, the initiation could be done via https (since they can hardly block that - Im sure a lot of business travelers might want to check their online banking or investments, which would require that), and the https transaction could specify the source and destination ports which wou

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