Where was Wi-Fi in the sky five years ago?

I’ve never believed 100 per cent that operating a personal electronic device on an airplane could interfere with the operation of the aircraft. However, hurtling through the sky in a metal tube aimed toward the ground for landing never seemed to be the appropriate time or place to test a theory. (In fact, to be honest, I always thought the cell phone ban on planes was because Naomi Campbell flies.)

I mention this because I am, at this moment, reading how Delta Air Lines is proposing to turn its planes into flying Wi-Fi hot spots. Delta’s ambition, according to CEO Richard Anderson, is to roll out “the most extensive Wi-Fi network in the sky.” This apparently supersedes Delta’s former goal of “actually getting planes off the tarmac within seven hours.”

There have been many occasions in the last few years I’ve thought that some airborne access would be handy. Transatlantic flights in particular could use an Internet connection, since a) you’re incognito for seven hours or more currently and 2) it might alleviate the crushing boredom more than Adam Sandler films, which inexplicably have been shown on every flight I’ve taken since The Wedding Singer was released.

There are a couple strikes against the plan.

It isn’t cheap for the end-user: Delta will be charging $12.95 for access on flights longer than three hours, $9.95 for shorter flight. Those are rates even Canadian wireless carriers can envy. Then there are two contradictory trends that collide in the air. While laptops are getting bigger, those of us who fly cattle class will have noted airlines are trying to jam more seats into less space. That 17-inch you’re packing is going to cause conflicts with your seatmates.

And with the rising price of fuel comes a rising cost of travel. As videoconferencing and telepresence become more practical and realistic options, there will be less business travel. And if your travel isn’t for business, do you need to be online? It’s called a vacation. Take one some time.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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