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Checking in With Row 44 During A Ride on the Grumman Albatross

A couple weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to connect through the massive hub that is Camarillo. Ok, so maybe it’s not massive. Camarillo is actually a small airport northwest of LA with no commercial service, but it is the home of Row 44’s Grumman Albatross test aircraft. I flew this airplane on a quick hop around San Diego back in 2009, but a lot has changed since then. Both Holly Hegeman from PlaneBusiness and I were invited to go for a ride to see what’s new.

Since they knew I was in Long Beach, they had us start our day at the Long Beach Airport. What I didn’t realize is that they weren’t bringing the Albatross over to pick us up. Instead, they had a Piper Cherokee fly us over to Camarillo where we would hop on the Albatross for a flight around Catalina Island. We cruised very low and very close to land the whole day. It was pure awesomeness. I fooled around with some video software to create this 3m18s souvenir of our day.

As you can see, this was dork heaven, but we did talk shop as well. So what’s new with Row 44?

The company continues to add clients. Most recently you might have heard that Allegiant will install a piece of Row 44’s system on its 757s for the long Hawai’i flights. This deal doesn’t include wifi but it does mean have cached video content will be available for people who want to pay to watch it on their own devices. In other words, the system uses Row 44’s hard drive and then broadcasts the content via the local wireless network on the airplane. It’s just not connected to the internet.

Southwest, however, is still the company’s biggest client and it is installing the whole enchilada. There are hundreds of airplanes with wifi today and the 737-700 fleet will be fully outfitted soon. These also have cached video as well as streaming media for news and other up-to-the-minute types of channels. (I flipped on MSNBC while inflight and it came in perfectly. It also doesn’t impact wifi speed, so it’s extra awesome.)

For now, Row 44 is happily committed to wifi using Ku band. My experience on our test flight was that it was adequately fast, but it wasn’t anywhere near home broadband speeds. Of course, we were in a freakin’ airplane, so I can’t really expect that … yet. The company continues to watch Ka band to see if anything develops but it’s still a ways away from being competitive. (I talked about this with Panasonic recently as well.)

What was interesting to me was the presence of Lumexis screens onboard the Albatross. It somehow escaped me that the big investor in both companies is the same. So the two are starting to work more closely together to be able to offer wifi and in-seat video to those airlines that are interested in a more complete package.

To end on a lighter note, I finally found out where the Row 44 name came from. Apparently the founder was on a Laker Airways DC-10 flying across the Pond many years ago. He was in row 44 and was miserable, so he decided that some day he would come up with a way to make air travel better, even for those seated in row 44. And there you have it.

Thanks to Travis Christ and Karin Pellmann of Row 44 for the sweet ride, and of course, for the updates on all things Row 44.

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