Alaska Airlines announced yesterday it will test onboard Wi-Fi next spring on one of its Boeing 737 aircraft. Alaska's test will last about one month. If the test is successful, the airline says it will roll out the service to the rest of its fleet by year's end 2009.
Alaska is partnering with wireless start-up Row 44. Along with fast Web browsing and e-mail, the wireless networks could also beam entertainment content to passengers' portable devices, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required to read the entire article).
Meanwhile, American Airlines, Virgin America, and Southwest Airlines in the U.S. are testing and/or beginning to install Wi-Fi systems aboard aircraft. In Europe, Ryanair and Air France are among those dipping a cautious toe in the onboard Wi-Fi waters.
Will these Wi-Fi networks lead to passengers making Skype or other Internet phone calls? I hope not. At the moment, that doesn't seem likely. U.S. carriers know all too well that the FAA and FCC continue to support a ban on cell phones in flight, and many passengers aren't thrilled with the idea of sitting next to Chatty Cathy. Presumably, those airlines offering inflight Wi-Fi can disable telephony services such as Skype. Or--more likely--they may ultimately charge a premium for enabling Wi-Fi or cell phone services at 35,000 feet. Money talks, as the saying goes.