AirTran and Delta fight to lead the Wi-Fi pack (ain’t it grand?)

Low-cost carrier AirTran Airways has become the latest US operator to partner with in-flight connectivity provider Aircell to offer passengers wireless Internet access.

AirTran 717.jpg

However, the carrier intends to move faster than its competition by equipping its entire 136-strong fleet of Boeing 737 and 717 aircraft with Aircell’s Gogo broadband system by mid-summer.

The ambitious project, which has been kept under wraps until now, sort of, was officially kicked off this morning with a Wi-Fi flight from Baltimore/Washington International airport attended by press. Yes, I was supposed to be on that flight (at press time, it will still be in the air), but I couldn’t make it due to all sorts of reasons that you care not about.

I do want to take a moment to congratulate AirTran on its clever decision to beat other carriers to the punch and quickly offer Wi-Fi to all passengers. The airline is going to find itself in a bit of a dog fight to the finish, however, since Delta Air Lines yesterday announced it will complete its fleetwide installations at the end of September. Isn’t it nice to see carriers now battling for in-flight connectivity headlines?

Key quote from AirTran chairman and CEO Bob Fornaro:

“Giving business and leisure travelers a consistent, high-quality experience at a low price is a top priority. We feel that Wi-Fi on every flight gives us a distinct competitive advantage over other airlines. Our passengers will know with confidence that no matter which flight they are on, the airplane cabin will be their mobile office, social network, online mall or whatever they want it to be.”

AirTran currently offers XM satellite radio to passengers. The carrier teased the possibility of Wi-Fi, HDTV and other offerings being added to its amenities as part of its “EveryFlight” advertising campaign, in which it solicited suggestions for new in-flight services from interested consumers. Clearly, it was planning to offer Wi-Fi long before the campaign started, however.

AirTran joins the aforementioned Delta as a Gogo customer, as well as  American Airlines (expanding to 300 aircraft) Virgin America (going fleetwide on a small fleet) and United Airlines (which will trial Gogo shortly). Air Canada will also start offering Gogo on transborder flights, once they reach US airspace (or are within close enough distance to the US towers).

Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, continue to trial Row 44′s satellite-based broadband solution.

For more on AirTran’s Gogo coup, check out industry expert Addison Schonland’s latest podcast at http://iagblog.podOmatic.com/entry/2009-05-12T04_06_48-07_00

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