Virgin America's decision to launch its in-flight broadband service Gogo with a plane-load of journalists and bloggers - while tying the experience into the YouTube Live event - was a bloody public relations coup. The airline, along with service provider Aircell, has received rather significant press coverage since Saturday's flight and most of it is very positive.
I only wish American Airlines had the foresight - or gumption - to do the same when it became the first carrier to offer Gogo this summer. Sure, some members of the press by nature of their travel circumstances have tested and reviewed Gogo on various American transcon flights.
But Virgin America's Gogo beta flight above San Francisco was significant because it really and truly put the service to the test. Think of 100-plus folks all head-down using Gogo to max capacity. In my opinion, the best in-flight product review of Gogo can be found here. Bless those fast-fingered Gadling folk.
The service worked well then and so it comes as no surprise that it works well now. Frankly, I can't wait to have access to WiFi on aircraft (think of all the work one can get done before arrival).
Significantly, after seeing how well Gogo performed in a packed plane full of Gogo users, I can also honestly say that I'd use this service at nearly every opportunity - both on shorter- and longer-haul flights. And yes, I'd pay more to do so (not that I'm suggesting the price be raised!)
To wit, my hotel in San Fran charged me $16 for WiFi. Sure it was a 24-hour deal, but I used the service for just over five hours - about the same amount of time as a transcon flight!
What I haven't figured out yet, however, is whether other road warriors feel as strongly as I and my fellow journa-bloggers do about in-flight broadband connectivity. And will Gogo compete with or simply augment installed IFE (including on Virgin America)?
Aircell hasn't released its usage stats yet and speculation is rife that the rates vary widely. Additionally, I'm curious as to how Aircell is going to cover its massive investment in this project.
For sure, the company has some dedicated investors. And its roster of clients is growing pretty fast. Announcements for a fifth and possibly sixth customer are in the offing. But I'd imagine it's going to take some serious usage rates - and high-end sponsorship deals?? - to make the serious bucks.
Time will tell. Heck, maybe that's all Aircell needs - time enough for people to wrap their heads around the idea that if they get their work done on the flight, they might get proper sleep in that big ole hotel bed.
For a little visual relief, I've added some fun photos taken by yours truly in the Virgin America terminal and on the flight to "Great Falls" (would Virgin America consider serving GTF in real life?)
Can you spot Virgin America's David Cush, Aircell's Jack Blumenstein and Fran Phillips (who was seated next to me), as well as Aviation Week journalist Darren Shannon? And yes, I know I look like a harried monkey. Cut me some slack, eh? It's been a busy weekend but I'm now firmly planted back in Amish Country, the technology centre of the world don't ya know?