Free JetBlue WiFi Aims to Boost Mobile Productivity

A leaked memo suggests low-cost airline JetBlue is set to unveil vastly improved in-flight WiFi—for free.

With the demands of 24-hour accessibility putting strains on organizations large and small, low-cost airline JetBlue could be getting ready to offer business travelers free in-flight wireless Web access, a deal that could push small businesses to consider the airline over others when mobile productivity is a premium request. A leaked internal email picked up by technology news site The Verge says JetBlue is planning to offer WiFi on its flights—and it will be free during the trial rollout planned for the first quarter of next year.

The email said while ground-to-air services like Gogo, or satellite-based services like Row 44 or Panasonic do provide basic Internet service, fliers are unsatisfied with their surfing speed—something JetBlue aims to change with technology from ViaSat, a wide-area satellite IP networking specialist. The leaked memo pointed to internal staff testing by ViaSat where the company claimed it was able to load 10 Web pages through the satellite service in an average of 1 minute, 18 seconds, far faster than competitors.

“Currently, WiFi on board is a competitive advantage. Customers, especially those traveling for business, with everything else being equal, will choose the airline that offers connectivity, even if the service is spotty or expensive,” the email stated. “To make sure customers appreciate the difference, we also decided to make the baseline connectivity free, at least until the first 30 aircraft are equipped with our service. If the speed doesn’t get them talking, the free part should.”

Several U.S. and international carriers offer in-flight WiFi, some for free and some for a fee, but connection speeds remain an issue—one that JetBlue hopes to solve. The company said its WiFi service would be fast enough to stream video content via Netflix during the flight. While that doesn’t suggest business travelers are going to get more work done while mid-air, it is certainly an impressive statistic (if true), and free WiFi is an almost universally appreciated convenience. The offering, expected to be officially announced during the World Low Cost Airlines Conference this week, builds on the airline’s earlier in-flight WiFi efforts.

“Our first foray into connectivity, with BetaBlue in 2007, was a great learning experience and I don’t regret it for one minute. It wasn’t easy for anyone to endure the questions and demands for good WiFi from our customers, but it was the right decision,” the email concluded. “LiveTV will begin installing ViaSat on our aircraft in the first quarter of 2013—so stay tuned for more information as it rolls out. I know it will be worth the wait.”