AT 30,000 FEET OVER RHODE ISLAND -- AirTran (AAI) is flying reporters around in a Boeing 737, circling over the East Coast, so that we can try out its new in-flight wireless Internet access.
Every major airline is moving toward providing in-flight connectivity, but AirTran is in the group that is moving quickly. The carrier announced today that it will have all 136 of its 737s and 717 jets equipped by late July.
"Internet has become a big part of people's lives," said CEO Bob Fornaro just before he boarded the flight. "Business people want to stay connected."
Fornaro said AirTran decided in October to equip every aircraft in its fleet, but wanted to keep the move quiet until it was close to rollout. "Our plan was too leapfrog everybody else," he said. "We didn't want to come out with it until we were within striking distance of having the entire fleet done."
Some airlines, such as
, are planning to have plug-in outlets available at your seat. American plans to have wireless access on about 300 aircraft within two years.
already has wi-fi on about 140 aircraft.(Delta plans to have 300 equipped this year.) By the end of 2010, Delta will have equipped 500 planes, including the Northwest mainline fleet.
Other industry leaders include
, which will be first to have its entire fleet equipped by Memorial Day. Virgin America has 28 aircraft.
Most carriers plan to charge between $10 and $15 for Internet use.
is approaching the issue differently. It will offer email, but not wireless Internet, and has no plans to charge for the service.