US airline JetBlue will begin
offering passengers free e-mail access on one of its aeroplanes next week as
Internet connections that have become ubiquitous on the ground begin taking to
An Airbus-320 passenger jet
called “BetaBlue” is equipped with wireless Internet antennae in the
ceiling and a computer server that relays signals to mobile telephone towers on
BetaBlue will make its commercial
flight debut Tuesday on a route from New York City to San Francisco.
Passengers will be able to
connect to Yahoo Mail and instant messaging services via wireless Internet
connections on laptops or with “Wi-Fi” enabled BlackBerry handheld
devices, according to the US-based airline.
JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV
customized the system and partnered with Yahoo because the US Internet titan’s
Web-based message service is the most widely used in the nation, according to
airline spokeswoman Alison Eshelman.
Yahoo executives and news
reporters were among the passengers taken for a demonstration flight on the jet
“It was just like you were
sitting at your computer at home,” said Eshelman, who took part in the
demo flight. “It was crazy to be able to do it in-flight.”
Implementing the Internet service
required approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates
signals coming from jets, and the Federal Communications Commission, which
oversees radio frequency usage.
The FAA has refused to allow
mobile telephone signals to be beamed from passenger jets, creating what some
passengers see as high-flying havens from the cacophony of cell phone chatter
on the ground.
While JetBlue will be the first
US airline to provide an in-flight Internet service, rival airlines American,
Virgin America, and Alaska Air are working on giving passengers online
connectivity beginning next year.
US airborne telecommunications
firm Aircell says systems it is developing for American and Virgin will allow
passengers to access e-mail, the Internet, or office networks using laptops,
iPhones, BlackBerrys and other portable gadgets with Wi-Fi connectivity.
Fees for the services will be
disclosed when they launch, according to the airlines.
“Travelers are already
bringing their own Wi-Fi enabled devices onto planes,” said Aircell chief
executive Jack Blumenstein.
“Airline customers across
the US list broadband access in flight as one of their top wishes.”
Industry analysts expect 2008 to
be the year in-flight Internet begins to take-off.