US Airways is finally getting on board with in-flight Wi-Fi, becoming the fifth U.S.-based airline to do so.
Only five US Airways planes are equipped with Wi-Fi now, GigaOM reports, but all 51 of its Airbus A321s will be online by June 1. There’s no word on when the airline will move on to the remaining 300-plus planes in its fleet, or whether it has any plans to do so.
Gogo Inflight will be the service provider, as it is for five other U.S.-based airlines. AirTran and Virgin America offer Wi-Fi on all their flights, and Delta, United and American Airlines have equipped part of their fleets. Air Canada also uses Gogo Inflight on some of its planes.
I’ve used in-flight Wi-Fi a couple of times, including last Thanksgiving weekend, when Delta was giving the service away for free, and on a previous cross-country flight, when it cost about $13. I thought it was worth the expense, but GigaOM’s Om Malik says the quality of service has deteriorated lately, because of increased demand. In other words, all those free promotions over the holidays were great for business, but bad for consumers.
In-flight Wi-Fi works similarly to a mobile phone hot spot, picking up signals from special towers that send their signal into the air, instead of to the ground as with traditional cell towers. Gogo uses cellular backhaul — the connection between those towers and the greater Internet — so it can’t really improve infrastructure on its own. Gogo’s best hope for improving service is 4G wireless, which could allow faster connections and more bandwidth overall, but that’s still years away.
In the meantime, I’m happy that another airline is getting in-flight Wi-Fi. Even if the service isn’t flawless, it’s better than nothing.