Plan Wont Fly

The vision of Internet access on airplanes is a good one, but I'm skeptical about the implementation.

The vision of Internet access on airplanes is a good one, but Im skeptical about the implementation.

Living in Seattle, Ive gotten used to long flights, which, coupled with time changes when traveling East, can eat up almost an entire day. It would be great to be able to handle e-mail and do online research while in the air.

But I fear that the services being implemented by Tenzing Communications and developed by Boeing wont hit the mark — at least not at first. Boeing has said that it anticipates airlines will charge users around $20 per hour to access the Internet and e-mail when its satellite-based service is first introduced. Tenzing imagines that its service will go for a much more reasonable $4.95 per flight for Web surfing and 50 cents per page of e-mail. Tenzing caches content though, which means that, for now, users can only access certain content.

I wouldnt be willing to pay for either of those services, and I doubt my company would reimburse me for using them. Because onboard e-mail access hasnt been available before, weve all learned how to plan ahead well enough that we usually dont have a critical need to send or receive e-mail on the plane. Im certain there are times that e-mail access could solve a time-sensitive issue, but are there enough such instances to pay off the investments that airlines will make to install these systems? I dont think so.

The idea of installing phones in every row of plane seats sounded like a great deal, too, backed by studies showing that the airlines could earn significant revenue from people gabbing away in the sky. But travelers rarely use those phones, and promised revenue hasnt been realized. Until providers can offer access to the entire Web at a lower price, a similar fate likely awaits in-flight Internet access.