yelling at laptop Will Googles Gmail voice chat upgrade mean noisier seatmates in flight?
Reader Leslie writes in:

Did you see the news about Google adding free phone calls to Gmail chat? Will this mean we’ll be listening to more conversations on flights with wifi?

Google is indeed expanding its Google Voice product to the instant messenger built into Gmail.

But will the rollout of voice chat mean that you’ll find dozens of passengers screaming into their laptops? I doubt it.

Fears — including my own — that passengers are going to use the internet connection to use voice and video chat ad nauseam have not panned out.

True, Skype is blocked on most airlines, but there have been plenty of workarounds and alternate methods of making calls. And frankly, it hasn’t seemed like much of a problem. The cabin hasn’t turned into a big chatfest in my experience.

In part, that’s because of a low acceptance rate of inflight wifi — maxing out between 5 and 10% per enabled flight in one estimate. Blame the cost of the service — which isn’t necessarily crazy-high, but high enough to dissuade buyers — plus the lack of sufficient power supply and tight space constraints.

If the ubiquity of wi-fi hasn’t created an inflight cacophony of chatter, then I don’t think Gmail with voice chat will, either.

Categorized in: inflight internet

Upgraded: Inflight wifi subscriptions
Gogo Inflight (aka Aircell) is making its monthly subscriptions for inflight wifi applicable across airlines — Air Canada, AirTran, American, Delta, US Airways, and Virgin America, to name a few. They’re also introducing discounts: For $19.95 in the first month and $34.95 each month thereafter, it’s all-you-can-surf pricing. I like. I like a lot.

Upgraded: Pilots on the edge
Upgraded: Headline writing

Great headline for a post: “United Pilot Loses Cool, Pants.” Poorly-played, trouser-dropping United pilot. Well-played, BlackBook!

Upgraded: Smaller airports near large cities
Downgraded: Methodology

CheapFlights has released their list of the “cheapest airports” in America, and some smaller airports near(ish) larger cities are on the list. Burbank, Long Beach, Bellingham… no huge surprises. But these lists are perpetually flawed… who edited this thing? Chicago-Midway, Chicago-O’Hare, and Chicago-All Airports on the same list?! The “CHI” code doesn’t really count, guys…

Downgraded: Travel insurance in the UK
If you’re planning to buy travel insurance in the UK, prepare to pay an “ash tax.” Yes, a surcharge to cover prospective volcano ash delays and cancellations.

Upgraded: The ubiquity of opaque bookings
Expedia, which owns Hotwire, will be integrating Hotwire’s opaque (i.e., unnamed until purchase completed) hotel supply into the regular Expedia sales channel. Travelocity added “top secret hotels” back in March. I guess it’s Orbitz’ turn next?…

Upgraded: Yada, yada, yada
Remember the “YADA,” the roving check-in unit being tested by American Airlines last year? It’s coming to LAX.


Is using video chat in-flight a security threat, inconsiderate, or neither?

John Battelle was sitting onboard a wi-fi enabled cross-country flight on United Airlines, and fired up video chat to wish his wife and kids a good night. (He stresses that he used headphones and the in-laptop microphone.) Then, mid-chat, a flight attendant told him to shut it down: “Security. Cameras not allowed!”

Since he was still wi-fi-enabled, but chat-restricted, Battelle fired up his inter-twitter-tubes, ran some searches, and asked if there were any legal restrictions against video chat.

Turns out there’s no federal policy against it. The closest you can find on the FAA website is this fact sheet:

While passengers are welcome to access the web, U.S. airlines offering WiFi service block the use of inflight calling using Skype or similar applications. This is not an FAA restriction; they are simply responding to the overwhelming majority of their customers, who prefer silent communications to the public nature of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) calls.

And there’s the core of it: The airlines (and the wi-fi providers) can set their own policies. United, which uses the Gogo service by Aircell, specifies that voice over IP (VoIP) services are currently prohibited. Video chat — voice and video — falls under that.

The argument that phone calls and chats are banned out of respect for seatmates, I get. If an airline wants to ban chat, like banning IP calls, that’s their choice. But blaming that policy on security? Hardly.

The purser on Battelle’s flight argued that video chat was prohibited because it enabled terrorists to communicate with partners on the ground. Umm… and an e-mail or text message isn’t good enough for terrorists?

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts: Airline staff making up rules, justifications, and regulations.

Categorized in: inflight internet

redbox Brilliant: Redbox expands to more airports

Redbox, the company that sets up DVD rental machines at supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores, has quietly been adding their machines at airports. For the same $1 per day rental fee, travelers can pick up a movie in one airport, watch the movie on the plane, and return the disc at any Redbox, at the airport or not.

Nashville, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids have had them already for several months. Boston and Cincinnati were just added. Some airports have them before security; some have them both before and after security.

It’s a brilliant idea. Cheap last-minute inflight entertainment for those bringing a laptop or a portable DVD player. (Of course, you’ll need a device that plays a DVD (most netbooks don’t have an optical drive anymore) and if you plan ahead you might have something else at the ready.) And make sure your batteries are fully charged.

The company is also making deals with in-airport concessions. For example, at Cincinnati’s airport, buying a popcorn and soda combo at a vendor called Buckeyes & Bluegrass yields you a free DVD rental code. Expect more tie-ins like this.

My biggest beef with Redbox (which I’ve only accessed at my supermarket, not while traveling) has been the selection. Yes, they have some recent films, but there is too much straight-to-DVD junk in their inventory. I hope their airport locations have a more desirable selection, and remain well-stocked.

Categorized in: airports, inflight internet

lh global wifi Lufthansa relaunches global inflight wi fi
Lufthansa officially announced today that it was bringing back its global inflight internet service. Redubbed FlyNet, the system recreates the Boeing-powered satellite-based system that was up and running as recently as 2006.

Unlike the inflight wireless systems that airlines are running in the US, Lufthansa’s FlyNet, powered by Panasonic, will use a satellite-based network, which means that you can get a signal over the oceans. And if you’re looking for a way to pass the time on a long flight, I think internet access is a pretty good way to do it. (Yes, I know, it can tether you to the office, too, which means you’re never off the clock. It’s a tradeoff.)

How about price? Too soon to ask for specifics, but I like that mileage redemption is an option:

Various different price models are planned – ranging from a rate by the hour to a monthly flat rate. Passengers should also be able to redeem Miles & More award miles for the use of WLAN Internet connections. The exact price for specific products will be announced at a later date.

I like the mileage redemption option, and it will be interesting to see how creative they get with pricing. A recent study by Alaska Airlines showed that customers are extremely price sensitive when it comes to internet access (at least on domestic US flights). One domestic provider, Row 44, has hinted at the possibility of inflight service subsidized by advertising. Who knows, perhaps Lufthansa will consider ads to reduce the cost to passengers as well.

Posted by: Mark Ashley

“I’m on a plane!” Oh thank God this is the internet, and not a cellphone call… but consider this my obligatory first-time-using-inflight-wireless-internet post.

I’m on an American Airlines MD-80, which happens to have Gogo wireless access. (I saved $9.95 by using code AAWiFi76194A1, valid thru August 23. You can use it too.)

Here’s my current location, for those keeping score:

inflight flightaware Obligatory inflight wi fi post

The speed is impressive:
inflight speedtest Obligatory inflight wi fi post

In any case, it’s time to put this sucker to the test and see if streaming video can work. More reports when I’m back on terra firma.