The Internet, email, even real-time television at every seat, right on a commercial airline flight. Just hook up the laptop and surf cyberspace while soaring along at 500 mph.
All of those indulgences could be coming soon to an airline near you.
is leading a group of telecommunications and media providers in putting together an in-flight, high-speed communications network that will bring information to passengers and allow them to stay in touch with the world 5 miles below.
The new venture's official name is
Connexion by Boeing
, but the company's executives have termed the system "global mobile." Boeing predicts the system will be up and running late next year, although it has no agreements yet with airlines.
"Boeing intends to be a leader in the new mobile economy, and that means helping our airline customers and their passengers stay globally connected at all times," Boeing Chairman and CEO Phil Condit said in announcing the venture.
"In commercial air travel today, you have a few choices -- you can read a book or a magazine or watch one of several movies," he said. "But soon, when you can watch a live soccer match or email family or shop online or keep an eye on your stocks; the airplane will begin to look like your home or office and the experience of travel will change."
Partners in the venture include
, which will use its 10 satellites to link passengers to information and
CNN Inflight Services
to provide information.
Airlines and passengers will be eager to embrace and use the new technology, experts predict.
"I do think it will be part of an ongoing improvement in customers' amenities, especially for business travelers," said Dave Anderson, a
Delta Air Lines
spokesman. "It will give those travelers the greatest extent possible to conduct business while on a flight."
Business travelers have been itching to stay wired in the air, judging by the number of cell phones being reluctantly stashed as the boarding door closes for departure, and the chorus of laptops and Palm Pilots clicking on when the plane is aloft.
But leisure flyers also will enjoy logging on to the Net or watching television, said Joel Stark of Dallas, who has worked for 20 years as a flight attendant for several airlines and who operates a travel-related Internet site called
Air Travel Pro
"Air travel is terribly boring," Stark said. "The Net is a great diversion for many. Absolutely no doubt about it ... flyers would greatly enjoy Net connections provided by airlines onboard."
But Doug Abbey of
a Washington, D.C., traveling consulting firm, doesn't agree with Boeing's hype that the system will change travel as we know it.
"It sounds like it will be a good service, but it's still just an additional service that passengers will have to embrace," Abbey said. "This isn't going to change the air travel experience. If you did not like travel before, you're not going to like it any better now just because you can get on the Internet from your seat."
Abbey said customers also would be skeptical about the reliability of the service. "Some carriers seem to have problems getting things right all the time, so I'm sure a lot of seasoned travelers are looking at this and wondering just how well it will really work."
And first-class and business-class passengers might expect the service to be free.
Boeing does intend to charge for the service, although it seemed purposely vague about just how much it would charge. The company said in-flight communications like this could be a $70 billion market in the next decade.
Delta's Anderson said passengers will have to warm up to the idea of logging onto the Internet while flying. "A limited number of customers would use it and pay for it at first, but I think it's something that will definitely grow in popularity as time goes on," he said.
But Abbey said others might just want to get away from work, and the Internet, while flying.
"More than anything else, this is a testament to how the Internet has invaded every aspect of our waking lives," he said. "Some travelers just want to read or relax. They don't want to work 24-hour days."
Patrick Crowley is a political reporter and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. At time of publication, he held no position in any securities mentioned, although holdings can change at any time. Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.