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AirTran opts for Wi-Fi; aims to equip entire fleet by mid-summer

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.

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, was officially kicked off this morning with a Wi-Fi flight from Baltimore/Washington International airport attended by press.

"Installing Wi-Fi on every one of our aircraft is another great example of what sets AirTran Airways apart from our competitors," says 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 being added to its list of amenities as part of its "EveryFlight" advertising campaign, in which it solicited suggestions for new in-flight services from interested consumers.

AirTran's Atlanta-hubbed rival, Delta Air Lines is in the process of equipping its entire fleet with Gogo. Delta said yesterday it will finish equipping its Boeing MD-90 fleet with the in-flight Wi-Fi service by the end of the month, with the remainder of its domestic fleet scheduled to be outfitted by September.

Other Gogo customers in various stages of bringing the service to passengers include Air Canada, American Airlines, Virgin America and United Airlines.

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

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