Boeing ‘disappoints’ key in-flight Internet partner

Lufthansa AG’s in-flight Internet service could be grounded and the company isn’t happy.

“We’re going to be very disappointed if we can’t provide this service, which many of our customers, especially on long flights to North America and Asia, have really come to appreciate,” said Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, The Boeing Co. announced plans to phase out its Connexion by Boeing service, leaving what it once considered a promising market for in-flight Internet access.

When Boeing fist announced plans to offer onboard Internet service in 2000, numerous airlines, especially the long-haul carriers in the U.S., showed huge interest. But by the time the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved the service in May 2002, the nation’s airlines were reeling from a travel slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In November, Boeing’s three primary backers, American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Inc., pulled out of the project.

“Boeing based a good chunk of its calculations on U.S. carriers, and they ended up backing out after Sept. 11.,” Lamberty said.

Lufthansa now faces the possibility of having to pull the plug on a service that has become popular among customers on long flights, according to Lamberty. “The service has been very well accepted,” he said.

Exact numbers aren’t available but up to 40 customers have been using the service on a single flight, according to Lamberty. Customers pay US$9.95 per hour or $26.95 for 24 hours, which could include connecting fights. Of Lufthansa’s 80 long-haul airplanes, 62 are equipped with the Connexion technology.

The German airline was the first to offer the in-flight service. “We were also heavily involved in developing the technology,” Lamberty said. “Our unit Lufthansa Technik played a big role.”

Boeing’s German subsidiary declined to comment.

Lufthansa is one of several airlines offering the Connexion by Boeing service, including All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd., Japan Airlines System Corp. and Scandinavian Airline Systems AB (SAS).