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An Onboard Wifi Update

I’m at the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) conference this week, and I spent awhile chatting with the folks at AirCell (provider of wifi fun) yesterday. That made me think it was a good time for a wifi update, especially since there has been so much news lately.

Delta and American continue to make progress while Southwest has announced it’s outfitting the full fleet. But the fleet coverage numbers that airlines throw out can be misleading, so I thought I’d break it down further.

Let’s start with this chart showing what percent of the fleet currently has wifi installed by airline.

Onboard Wifi as of Aug 09 (including Express)

You’ll notice that these numbers look WAY different from what the airlines tell you. For example, Delta just announced that it was north of 70% but I’m showing 16%. What gives? Well, Delta has it installed on 70% of the pre-merger mainline fleet. In this number, I’ve included the Northwest fleet and the vast fleet of Delta Connection regional jets and props that have no wifi at all. While the regional fleet probably won’t see wifi, the first Northwest aircraft goes in for modification on 10/1.

AirTran and Virgin America remain the only airlines with 100% completion, though it was a lot easier for Virgin America with only 28 planes than it was for AirTran with 136 planes. Oh, and remember, Virgin America has power outlets so they already have a leg up.

American has just passed 100 MD-80s with the system along with the 15 767-200s flying across the country. talking to AirCell today, I was told that they’re doing 1 or 2 a day, so they keep marching quickly. They will have 150 MD-80s, and I believe that’s the only plan so far.

Alaska is still just in test mode, but they have indicated that they want to go fleetwide eventually.

Southwest is also still in test mode, but they just announced that they would be rolling this out fleetwide beginning in 2010. There is no timeline for completion, but hopefully they can install this quicker than they can paint airplanes in their new colors.

Continental and JetBlue are in the same boat. They are both tied to the LiveTV inflight entertainment system, and that can include narrow-band access for free onboard. That means you can check email, use IM, and visit a couple websites but that’s about it. JetBlue still only has it on one airplane but they’ll begin rolling it out soon throughout the fleet. I know Continental has LiveTV on most of its 737-900s now, but they don’t have wifi of any kind yet.

United had announced that its flights from New York to LA and San Francisco will have internet but that hasn’t happened yet. US Airways will put it on their A321 fleet as well, but that hasn’t begun either.

So if you want wifi, AirTran and Virgin America are your best bet with Delta and American following. Of course, it remains to be seen how many people want wifi and more importantly, are willing to pay for it. I asked AirCell for usage numbers, but of course, they couldn’t provide that. Bummer.

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