Industry executives have speculated for years that Southwest Airlines could buy in-flight Internet provider Row 44, giving the low-cost giant the power to decide who does – and doesn’t – get the system (taking a page out of the JetBlue/LiveTV handbook).
But yesterday’s revelation to RWG that Southwest seniormanager, flight operations technologies Doug Murri has jumped ship to take up a role at Row 44 has set tongues wagging again.
My friend David Parker-Brown over at AirlineReporter was first to publicly draw a correlation between Murri’s appointment and a possible sale, tweeting: “Whoa. u think WN might buy R44?”
Another industry observer observes: “Why would a Southwest President’s award-winning executive leave Southwest to go to Row 44 if he wasn’t laying the groundwork for something bigger?”
Even more suspect is the generic-sounding title given to Murri – he is now director, airline solutions at Row 44, although this IS NOT mentioned in the press statement issued today – and the fact that Row 44′s statement says nothing about what Murri will do in his new role (indeed, the statement reads like a resume for Murri…a very impressive resume).
Murri helped spearhead integrating Row 44′s in-flightbroadband system into Southwest’s planes so, presumably, he will be tasked with doing the same for other airline contracts.
But imagine you’re Southwest. You want to fit your fleet with in-flight Internet quickly, but your provider is financing the installs. So you buy the provider, sell the Internet service to all and sundry across the pond (and to a couple non-threats on this side of the pond) and use the money to finance the rest of your installs. Because, hell, in-flight connectivity ain’t free these days, ya know?
That’s just one of any number of scenarios that might be playing out. Perhaps Murri simply got so jazzed about Row 44′s in-flight connectivity system that he decided to leave the carrier for a new experience in the wonderful world of IFEC. It could happen, right?
Maybe Murri feels as if Row 44 is really onto something. He need only glance over to Norwegian to see that the European carrier has quietly launched Row 44-supported in-flight Internet (finally, ahem). I first got wind of this little nugget this morning via the following twitpic from @cencio4:
Then I tapped Norwegian for confirmation, and received the following email from the carrier’s communications manager Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen.
We went live with our first WiFi-enabled aircraft, LN-DYC, yesterday evening. This aircraft is a test aircraft as we are officially launching the service on February 8 on another aircraft, LN-DYG with SKY Interior. By summer 2011 we will have 11 aircraft with Wifi and by the end of the year we will have 21. By the end of next year, 40 of our Boeing 737-800s will have WiFi.
We are proud to be the first airline to offer this service on European routes and are excited to offer this great service to our existing and new customers.
Congratulations to Norwegian, which has become the second European operator – after Lufthansa – to offer in-flight high-speed Internet to passengers (of late). Also congrats to Row 44 for launching business across the pond! Next up Mango? South African Airlines? And whomever else Murri is pulling in as I write this blog post.