Wi-Fi in the Sky: the Boeing Connexion

Rob Enderle, whilst cramped on a commuter flight with his notebook crammed into his belly, yearns for the coming of Wi-Fi to the airways.

As I sit here in an American Eagle commuter jet, flying from San Jose to Los Angeles and trying to write this column, one thing occurs to me: This Ferrari-branded notebook sure looks better when it isnt solidly stuck in my stomach. The second thing that occurs to me is, Ill probably never regain the use of my hands. But since I am trying to bisect my midsection and cripple myself anyway, another thing that occurred to me was, "Wouldnt it be wonderful if I could actually get to a network?"

Actually, that isnt true. The first thing that occurred to me was that American Eagle flights have seats designed by sadists with an aversion to foam rubber.

But Ive gotten kind of fond of being able to communicate from airports using Wi-Fi (generally through Wayport or T-Mobile). Being able to work on a plane would mean I wouldnt have to catch up with tons of e-mail after I landed.

Boeing is attempting to come to my rescue with a service called Connexion. This was actually supposed to be deployed widely by now, but the 911 disaster resulted in a change of plans.

Since we have been conditioned to think that turning on a cell phone or a RIM BlackBerry in flight could suddenly result in our having substantially more leg room, I would typically be a bit leery of this idea of putting wireless networking into airplanes. But Ive left my cell phone on by accident several times, and Im still here. Its not the wisest test, but I have to believe Im not the only one who has done this. Ive also seen people use their BlackBerries in the air. Not that I would ever do that, but the plane has survived that as well.

Im becoming convinced that this whole "turn the electronics off" thing is a power trip the flight crew is on. On a flight to Italy a while back, they wouldnt let me use a CD player, but my laptop was OK, as long as I removed the CD drive. I think it was just an Italian requirement that you be as bored and uncomfortable as possible—a feature I feel they should promote more widely so we all learn to fly another airline.

But ever since they took the telephones out of the planes, Ive been looking for creative ways to spend money on flights. And Wi-Fi may be that way.

Part of the problem with air travel is that the trips are not only very cramped, they also are incredibly boring. The only excitement is when they bring you the food and you get to discover if its edible.

Next page: JetBlue uses the boob tube to good zombification effect.