Some airlines, like American and AirTran, have been offering free wi-fi for a limited time on certain routes (after all, that is the most effective way to get people hooked). But there's no doubt that in-flight wi-fi is here to stay, and it could be that pretty soon laptops could replace the TV as the key means of entertainment.
And wouldn't airlines like this? An excellent article in Reuters points out that there would be significant cost savings for airlines. After all, they've got to pay for the installation of the systems and any upgrades, as well as the extra fuel costs related to hauling around all of that extra equipment. And next time you're watching a movie on a transcontinental flight, keep in mind that the airline had to pay a licensing fee to the movie studio. Which means that NBC pockets a bit of cash every time I watch an episode of The Office on United.
There's even another bonus. From the article:
Passengers engrossed with their laptop PCs and mobile entertainment devices that can be used continuously as a result of the power sockets on every seat could also free up cabin crew. "I've heard stories about the number of crew on board each flight being cut by airlines after they introduced personal TVs on every seat," said Anthony Prakasam, an aviation consultant.So basically, the internet would help further distract passengers from the ever-declining level of in-flight service? Perfect! Makes you wonder why airlines haven't rolled out wi-fi already. Maybe because it costs at least $100,000 to outfit an aircraft? I'm not sure, but perhaps airlines should trim down their current inflight entertainment systems to just long-haul routes and hand out free wi-fi access instead. They might be able to recoup their costs pretty quickly with all of the savings of getting rid of the conventional IFE systems on some flights. Of course, I'm not a bean counter at an airline so I'm not sure if that would make economic sense. What do you think?
photo by DrewVigal from Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons