Virgin America’s entire fleet of airplanes now offer Wi-Fi Internet access, and with typical Virgin bravado, the company celebrated the event with an air-to-ground Skype video call with Oprah Winfrey during her show. Virgin America is the first airline in the country to offer its customers Wi-Fi on every flight.
Service is provided by Broomfield, Co.-based Aircell’s Gogo In-flight Internet service. Aircell is the only company in the United States authorized by the FCC and FAA to use cellular frequencies for in-flight communications. Gogo is powered by the Aircell air-to-ground system, which uses three small antennas installed outside the aircraft and connects to Aircell’s exclusive nationwide mobile broadband network.
The service is available for $12.95 for daytime flights of over three hours, $9.95 for daytime flights of less than three hours, $5.95 on red-eye flights and $7.95 for handheld devices. The pricing is identical to that offered by competing airlines such as American Airlines, which also offers a tiered plan based on length of flight.
Porter Gale, Virgin America’s vice president of marketing, said the airline is reinventing the typical domestic air travel experience. “With power outlets at every Virgin America seat, Gogo has now turned our planes into Wi-Fi hotspots and home offices in the air,” Gale said. “Hosting a chat from a plane at 37,000 feet to Oprah Winfrey in her studio is a fun example of how Virgin America is embracing technology and meeting the needs of consumers who want to stay connected.”
Although Virgin America said it does not typically allow Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) products such as Skype video call in-flight due to concerns about maintaining a “quiet, restful cabin environment,” Virgin travelers can currently use Gogo to Skype via the instant message feature.
Other major airlines are also pushing to expand their own in-flight Wi-Fi services. Earlier this month, Delta Airlines announced that it has installed Wi-Fi on nearly half of its domestic mainline fleet. Of the more than 300 airplanes Delta operates on U.S. routes, 139 are equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet. Last week, AirTran Airways announced it would install Inflight on all of its airplanes by late July 2009.
The race to provide fleet-wide Wi-Fi, while offering clear commercial appeal, is also good news for traveling business professionals; two surveys conducted earlier this year suggest small businesses are increasingly mobile entities and are looking for products and services that give them Wi-Fi connectivity wherever business opportunities take them.