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Alaska eyes adding wi-fi to additional aircraft

Alaska Airlines may expand access to Row 44's in-flight Internet offering on a trial basis beyond a single Boeing 737-700 currently outfitted with wi-fi.

The carrier began evaluating wi-fi pricing after equipping a single -700 with wi-fi and offering the service on a trial basis from February following months of delays.

It is "still too early to tell" at what price points the operator will ultimately offer wi-fi, but the airline is likely to outfit "another aircraft or two" before making a decision, Alaska vice president of marketing, sales and customer experience Steve Jarvis said today during an investors call.

Jarvis adds that Alaska would especially like to equip an -800 for pricing analysis on transcontinental flights.

To date, pricing trials have been conducted on the -700 at various stage lengths and at a variety of price points.

Passenger uptake has varied based on cost and whether the customer has a laptop or handheld device such as a smartphone or portable media player, Jarvis says.

Usage by customers has been at its highest--upwards of 30%--when Alaska has offered wi-fi for free, he explains.

Alaska appears committed to Row 44 despite regulatory delays that could hamper its ability to move forward with fleet-wide equipage for commercial use by the end of next year.

Row 44 is awaiting approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment.

Alaska and Southwest Airlines have urged the FCC to promptly approve Row 44's application so the carriers can work toward fleet-wide equipage.

"We think we'll be able to come through that. We think we have the right solution for us," Jarvis says.

Row 44 competitor ViaSat has long opposed the California firm's application, claiming interference issues.

However, an 11 May 2009 test report from Row 44 shows its satellite broadband system can operate without causing interference to other satellite services, lawyers for Alaska and Southwest say.

Southwest has also been trailing Row 44 on several 737s. However, the carrier is still studying its options for in-flight connectivity, and recently revealed discussions with Aircell about its Gogo broadband product.

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