Still no contract between Southwest Airlines and Row 44

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Southwest Airlines in August 2009 announced plans to equip its entire Boeing 737 fleet with Row 44′s high-speed Ku-band satellite-based Internet solution. At that time, both sides said they were still working out the finer points of the contract, including details on how to finance the installation of Row 44 systems on Southwest’s massive 540-plus aircraft fleet.

So where do things stand now? Southwest has revealed it is has not yet locked down an agreement with Row 44 on installations.

Key quote from a Southwest spokeswoman:

“We have no new news to report. We are still in the contract negotiations phase with Row 44.”

Wow…that’s a bit jarring. Does it add credence to the speculation that Row 44 is having trouble drumming up financing? Or is there some less dramatic reason why Southwest has not yet signed on the bottom line?

Southwest says it is still targeting the first quarter to begin installations beyond its four-aircraft trial and that it still plans to offer in-flight Internet to passengers. It says it is “still testing” various price points and “will probably” continue testing price points for a period as additional aircraft are installed with Row 44.

Asked by RWG when Southwest intends to begin marketing the Row 44 service, the airline spokeswoman says:

“I think we’re going to have to learn as we go. We have 540 aircraft and can’t do a really broad marketing message at this point. There will be a tipping point essentially where we will begin marketing it more broadly. Until then, it will be on a per-flight basis, which is what we’ve been doing.

“We haven’t done it consistently but we have been sending 24-hour advance notices to customers, saying ‘you are currently scheduled to be on a Wi-Fi equipped aircraft’.”

Row 44 could not be reached for comment.

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