Lufthansa Tries to Connect Air and Ground Life with Onboard Wifi

I know, I know. It’s yet another onboard wifi story, right? Lufthansa has started putting internet on its airplanes and expects to have it on its whole long haul flight by the end of 2011. So why is this interesting? A couple of reasons, actually. I do find it really interesting the way that Lufthansa is working to bring air and ground together in a couple of ways, including the introduction of CloudStream. Here’s the default CloudStream playlist.

Default Lufthansa Cloudstream

Now, it’s no surprise that Lufthansa is the first to bring back real broadband internet over the oceans. Lufthansa was really aggressive at doing it when Boeing first launched Connexion back in the day. But then, Connexion shut down and Lufthansa just kept flying around with a bunch of sad, useless antennas. So when Panasonic resurrected a new effort at onboard satellite wifi, Lufthansa jumped at it, especially since it could use some of the hardware it was stuck with from before.

The first flights were up and running with wifi on December 1. Lufthansa is starting with Frankfurt to JFK, Detroit, and Atlanta. Yeah, I know. I wondered about Detroit as well, but it’s just because the A330 is the first airplane to get the service, so those routes get it first. If you’re flying on an A330 before January 31, it’s free so check it out.

But what’s different about this versus, say, the stuff you can get domestically. It uses the same satellite as Row 44 (the one Southwest is installing), but it’s also more robust. For example, Lufthansa will allow people to use GSM/GPRS to use their mobiles to text message and surf the web that way. For me, the most interesting thing about this is how Lufthansa is integrating it with the ground.

The service is being handled by Deutsche Telekom (better known as T-Mobile’s parent, here in the US). So it’s really like it’s just another hotspot. Because of that, you can pay using miles, roaming agreements, or just with a credit card. There are a ton of options.

The pricing seems a little screwy to me, however. You have two options – either one hour of service or 24 hours of service. The one hour option is €10.95 (~$14.50) or 3,500 miles while the 24 hour option is €19.95 (~$26.40) or 7,000 miles.

First of all, let’s all just agree that the mileage option is shockingly dumb. I mean, it’s not dumb for Lufthansa to offer it, but it’s really dumb if you as a passenger choose it. The return on that is right around 0.3 cents per mile. In a world where most people benchmark 2 cents per mile as a good place to start, this is really throwing your miles away. But then there are the two options.

For one hour, $15 seems mighty steep. I guess the idea is to try to upsell you to the higher plan, but maybe this will change after testing. Chances are, if you only want one hour on a long haul flight, you simply want to do an email upload/download to reconnect with the world. So they should do something like 30 minutes for €5 for that purpose and then just go with an all-you-can-eat for 24 hours plan.

That plan, by the way, seems to be priced fairly to me. If you’re on an 8 to 12 hour flight, $25 for internet the entire time is absolutely worthwhile. I know that if I flew on Lufthansa, that’s the plan I’d choose. But the really cool thing is how they connect this with the ground experience.

Since it’s run by Deutsche Telekom, the 24 hour period isn’t just for access on the airplane. You can also access on the ground in the lounge. Not sure if you can use your access at any hotspot run by the company, but if so that makes it even more valuable.

Lufthansa has also put together this thing called CloudStream which it calls a digital carry-on. The idea is that leading up to your trip, you can create a virtual briefcase of stuff you want to read. You know you’ve run into those 10 page articles in the Atlantic that you want to read but never have time. So Lufthansa lets you compile everything you want to read for your flight and then you can just call it up and start sifting through while onboard.

Sure, you could do this on your own by just saving a bunch of links in an email, but Lufthansa has put this together in a slick package that also lets you share with others and get content recommendations. If you’re on a long flight, it’s a great way to pass the time.

I give Lufthansa a lot of credit for really trying to integrate its wifi offering into everyday life. Now if they would only put powerports in coach. But that’s a whole different issue.

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