Can 44 out-cell Aircell?

Southwest Airlines has long had simple philosophy about in-flight entertainment: ‘We don’t need it. We have our flight attendants and they wise-crack often enough to keep the folks entertained.’ But the airline has been talking about taking some steps toward supplementing the witty comebacks of its (usually) funny women and men in the cabin. Now it’s taken a real big step, signing up with a company called Row 44 for Internet service that it will test this summer on four planes. Wait a moment…how entertaining is e-mail? Well, when it’s Row 44’s technology, it also offers a way to get some fun on board. As Dave Ridley, the Southwest marketing vice president, said, the airline “is looking for the best solution for our customers not only for Internet email access but for additional in-flight entertainment as well”. Row 44, based in Southern California, boasts that because it is satellite-based, its stuff is lightweight and fast and able to do more than one thing at a time. And, Ridley says, “there is a limitation on air-to-ground bandwidth.” We’ll find out soon.
Meanwhile, Southwest’s cross-town rival, American Airlines, is putting in airborne image67.png Internet with technology from Aircell on 15 of its Boeing 767-200s used in transcontinental service. American, like other big network carriers with premium service, has already spent heavily on in-flight entertainment, and has also spent years training its flight attendants not to crack wise with anyone while aloft. It says it’s confident that Aircell, with cell or mobile stations rather than a satellite system like Row 44′s, is the right answer. Our friend Runway Girl explains Aircell in great depth in her blog. And she knows what she’s talking about. Virgin America has commited to Aircell, and Alaska Airlines will also be installing Row 44 this summer. Stay tuned, aloft or the ground.

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