The need for speed…

SOMEWHERE OVER NEVADA: I’m on board a Virgin America Airbus A320 flying from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles, where the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) is holding a technical committee meeting this week at Walt Disney Studios.

Considering the fact that I’ll be covering a conference about the airline passenger experience, I could hardly be flying on a more appropriate ambassador than Virgin America, which offers an award-winning in-flight entertainment system, Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi and, importantly, in-seat power.

As you’d expect, I’m making full use of the in-flight entertainment and connectivity on offer. I’ve ordered an Artisan cheese meal through the seat-back monitor and dutifully swiped my credit card; I’ve plugged my Macbook Pro into the in-seat power plug and it is juicing up while I write this blog and clear other work;  I’ve plopped down $12.95 for a Gogo session to stay connected, and I’m trying to catch up on snippets of my one trash TV indulgence, ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ on satellite television (easy now).

Unfortunately, the speed of Gogo on this flight is far from ideal. I’ve conducted a number of speed tests via – here’s the latest result – but the tests are probably unnecessary. I need only jump onto any web site with bandwidth-heavy applications to ascertain that things are slooooooow going.
While I’m certainly grateful to be connected in flight – with the ability to tweet, post to FaceBook and access email – I’m not being nearly as productive as I had hoped.

For me, today’s connection speed serves as yet another gentle reminder that, when it comes to bandwidth, we passengers can’t get enough, and connectivity service providers are having a difficult time keeping up.

It certainly makes sense for Gogo – and other connectivity stakeholders – to offer a streaming video service to passengers as a means of drawing them away from a live connection when and where possible.

Equally, I can see why some airlines – including Virgin America – are not yet ready to cease offering embedded (or portable IFE) solutions, though Virgin America has tabled a plan to bring wireless IFE to passengers’ own devices as well as new seat-back screens, a different direction than its current headend server-based embedded IFE offering.

At present, connectivity is largely augmenting IFE rather than replacing it, or is being offered on aircraft that traditionally did not offer IFE.

During the recent APEX conference and exhibition in Seattle, I talked to digEcor marketing director Adam Williams about some of these topics. Check out my interview below.

I’ll have an opportunity to dive into a fuller discussion this week with digEcor and other players in the field, as I’m moderating the wireless and portables panel at the APEX technical committee meeting.

Can we speed up Virgin America? I want to get to LA! :-)