One of the consolations of my October 2006 trip to India was Lufthansa's provision of in-flight wifi. Not that I couldn't simply have read a book during my inevitably sleepless flights, but having Internet access gave me the ability to do routine things such as keep up with e-mail and keep up with various news sites as well as to do really cool things - such as IM my wife from 38,000 feet over Karachi. Reflecting on that experience brought a smile to my face as I read that Southwest Airlines is planning to test satellite-delivered broadband (30mbs) on four of its planes. The carrier is working with the same provider that is working with Alaska Airlines to pilot (hard to avoid the word) in-flight Internet.Oddly, while I was genuinely excited to be able to use instant messaging while hurtling over the surface of the globe, I felt a certain sense of entitlement. Human nature has a way of transforming technological luxuries into necessities, and Internet access has become one of them. Using the Internet is part of how we live from minute to minute (at least in the case of journalistic wretches chained to their desks) and is more important, by far, than the telephone.
That being the case, I have been convinced for a long time that it is ridiculous that in-flight Internet access is so rare. We are rightly deprived of some liberties on planes, but perhaps the habit of obedience these restrictions foster make us less likely to demand what it is ridiculous to be denied. Phone service has been available in the air for ages. It is seldom used, partly because it is considered over-priced but mostly because most passengers realize that hearing someone speak on the telephone is unpleasant for any length of time. Probably the average traveler is also happy not to have to talk on the phone constantly.
But the Internet is different, not only because it is a vehicle for entertainment but also because solitary work is emotionally easier than work-related telephone contact and e-mail and IM.
There's something to be said for the ability to tune-out when various parties are clamoring for one's attention, most blissfully unaware of one's other demands and some with an exaggerated sense of their priority. However, in a life tied more to deliverables than simply "being there," no downtime goes unpunished, so it's nice to have the option to catch up as one can. However, given that the technology is now available for deployment, in-flight Internet should be acknowledged as a "must-have" for business travelers, not a "nice-to-have."
At the risk of appearing even more of a prima donna, I'll insist that merely providing broadband in-flight Internet is not quite enough. Connected or unconnected, business travelers trying to get work done are limited by another inconvenience, as this commenter on the linked article observes:
I don't care if it's cheap or even if it's free, my laptop's battery wipes out after an hour. And of the many airports I visit every year, very very few have enough outlets to go around when at least half the travelers present need to charge.
I'm grateful that many airports have indeed begun to provide places to charge up, so that I stand less of a chance of having to sit in a corridor if necessity demands. My home airport is better than any other I can think of in providing outlets in convenient public spaces, though I prefer the outlets in some of the commercial zones, and am indeed typing from one right now. Other airports lag in this respect, but at least they try - the service is simply unavailable on the vast majority of domestic flights. Lufthansa managed to provide it - even if I did struggle with my international adapter plug - and domestic carriers should start providing it too.There's something to be said for the ability to tune-out when various parties are clamoring for one's attention, most blissfully unaware of one's other demands and some with an exaggerated sense of their priority. However, in a life tied more to deliverables than simply "being there," no downtime goes unpunished, so it's nice to have the option to catch up as one can. However, given that the technology is available in-flight Internet should be regarded as a "must-have" for business travelers, not a "nice-to-have."
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio