American Airlines to expand in-flight wireless

Tue. March 31, 2009 12:00 AM by Chicago Breaking News

American Airlines is expanding in-flight WiFi service to 150 aircraft this year, allowing passengers to surf the Web and keep up on e-mails while in the air.

The planned expansion of the broadband service comes after a six-month pilot program where American Airlines, using technology made by Itasca-based Aircell, tested the WiFi system on 15 Boeing 767-200 aircraft. Those planes flew cross-country routes between New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.

Now American Airlines is outfitting 150 of its MD-80 aircraft with Aircell's Gogo system. Next year, 153 of the carrier's 737-800 planes will also have the WiFi technology, bringing the total number of Gogo-equipped aircraft to more than 300 by the end of 2010.

"The MD-80s and the 737s basically fly to all American Airlines cities throughout the continental U.S.," said Doug Backelin, the carrier's manager of in-flight communications and technology. "It'll be coming to an airport near you very soon."

For laptop users, Gogo costs $12.95 for flights of more than three hours and $9.95 for flights shorter than three hours. Aircell chief executive Jack Blumenstein said the service's expansion will enable his company to offer a greater variety of pricing plans, with possibilities ranging from a day pass to a subscription for frequent flyers. Two weeks ago, Aircell introduced an option for users of handheld devices such as BlackBerry phones and iPhones. Passengers with mobile gadgets pay $7.95 regardless of the length of their flight.

Gogo speeds in the air are comparable to what broadband consumers receive in their homes and offices, allowing for popular Web applications such as streaming video.

"I've flown on many of these flights," Backelin said. "You get on there and you start doing your corporate e-mail and you're catching up with things. But at the same time, you're streaming music from an Internet channel and you may stop after a meal and watch a video. You mix it up just like you would on the ground."

Written by: Wailin Wong

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