Saturday, May 23, 2009

Airlines rush to offer Wi-Fi aboard planes....

Connections — the wireless kind — are starting to be made in the U.S. skies as one airline after another begins testing and offering broadband Internet access on their planes.

By becoming mobile "hot spots," airline cabins also risk becoming the scene of etiquette dilemmas.

What if a seat neighbor is boldly cruising porn websites? Or the woman on the aisle is watching an R-rated movie that's fine for adult gawkers but not for the 8-year-old in the next seat?

"There is this specter that wireless Internet access will mean people will be exposed to things in crowded conditions," said David Ridley, senior marketing vice president with Southwest Airlines.

There is nothing to stop people from bringing objectionable magazines and DVDs on board today, Ridley said. "We all have this horrific vision of what the Internet can perhaps bring, and it doesn't happen."

Southwest is testing Wi-Fi for laptops, i Phones and BlackBerries provided via satellite by California-based Row 44 on four aircraft.

In the competitive aviation world, Wi-Fi is another service that airlines will be compelled to offer, particularly to the lucrative business sector.

AirTran Airways announced last week that all of its 136 jets will be outfitted with Internet access by July. Virgin America boasted that its 28-plane fleet will be enabled by May 25.

American says it will equip its 300 planes in the next two years; Delta will have it on 330 planes this year. Others such as Denver's largest airline, United, are testing it on a few planes while assessing customer feedback and working through issues including etiquette.

The idea of onboard, online access is "fantastic" for checking e-mail and the service should be free on short flights, said Toshi Chun, a music major at the University of Northern Colorado.

But, Chun added, "airlines should filter adult content out and people should use common courtesy" on what they watch and read.

The airlines are anticipating problems, with several planning to block adult content, such as questionable websites.

Jess Hollman of Chicago, in Denver for a conference, said she's concerned about privacy, though in-air access would be helpful in working on job-related material.

"I worry about proprietary information if you are logging on to your company's network," Hollman said.

Greg Hoyt, a retired software worker from Sacramento, believes people will use good etiquette when it comes to content.

But he cautioned about "not doing anything that requires a password" on airline Wi-Fi, adding, "It's not secure. Other people can see what you're doing."

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