AirTran going full throttle with Wi-Fi connectivity

By Maria Jose Subiria


Like other airlines, AirTran Airways physically connects passengers to different destinations daily, in the time it takes its planes to cover the distances.

But now, the company says it will be the first major airline to give every passenger the ability to connect with the rest of the world within seconds.

On May 12, AirTran announced it will install Wi-Fi connectivity in its entire fleet of 136 Boeing 737, and 717 jets by the middle of July. The move will be made through its partnership with Aircell, a company dedicated to airborne communications.

"This was done to ensure passengers they would get a consistent product on every flight ... Our goal was to be the first major airline to equip all flights with Wi-Fi," said Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas, spokesperson for AirTran Airways.

According to Tinsley-Douglas, AirTran conducted surveys of its passengers and got positive responses, indicating a desire for Wi-Fi connectivity on AirTran's flights.

Tinsley-Douglas said Aircell is a leader in the industry in the kind of technology needed for this purpose, and the airline has collaborated with the company for some time to make the service possible for travelers.

According to Aircell officials, since the company won the Federal Communications Commission auction for air-to-ground broadband frequencies in 2006, it has been the the sole provider of Wi-Fi communications to airlines, business aviation, military, government and specialty aircraft users across North America.

"AirTran expects to have its entire fleet equipped with Gogo In-flight Internet by mid-summer," said Jack Blumenstein, CEO of Aircell. "American Airlines was the first to launch Gogo In-flight Internet last August, followed by Virgin America and Delta. We've also announced agreements with United and Air Canada."

According to Delta Air Lines officials, the company announced on May 11, its installation of Wi-Fi connectivity on nearly half of its domestic mainline fleet.

"At 10,000 feet, once it's OK to turn on personal electronic devices, customers can access the service by simply turning on any Wi-Fi-enabled device, and selecting the Gogo wireless network," said Blumenstein. "Gogo In-flight Internet works as high as commercial aircraft fly. You'll never be flying at an altitude that is 'too high' to use Gogo."

AirTran Airways is only allowing its passengers to access the Internet through devices such as their laptops, Blackberry PDA's and iPhones. Using cellular Skype is not allowed, said Tinsley-Douglas.

"They [Aircell] are the innovators of this service ... they are the leading edge of this type of technology," she said. "It's really cool to think that you're on the internet at 35,000 feet."

Passengers can connect to the internet with their mobile or handheld devices for $7.95 on flights of any length of time.

Travelers using their laptops can connect to the internet for $9.95, on a flight of three hours or less, or for $12.95, on flights over three hours, Blumenstein said.