Friday, December 07, 2007

Out of the Blue -- JetBlue, that is -- In-Flight Wi-Fi; But, Is That Really a Good Thing?

Next week, JetBlue Airways plans to test its first in-flight Wi-Fi network that will enable passengers to email, IM, and surf the web to their hearts' content. In so doing, JetBlue will be the first U.S. carrier to do so. If the test goes well on its test airline -- a bit cheesily dubbed "BetaBlue" -- then JetBlue plans to install Wi-Fi across its entire fleet of airlines in the not too distant future.

I, like many of you frequent business travelers are laptop and blackberry hounds (my usual airline is the Southwest "bus" from San Diego to the Bay Area). And I, like many of you, likely a bit too dependent upon electronic communication rather than the more personal and connected style of communication enabled via video and voice calling. So, my initial reaction is that this is a great thing -- and other U.S. airlines also plan to test such systems in the near-term.

But, a few questions come to mind -- one, although JetBlue says it plans to roll out its in-flight Wi-Fi for free, other airlines are likely to charge; two, will in-flight Wi-Fi networks be sufficiently robust and be capable of supporting a plane-ful of passengers feverishly typing on their laptops and blackberrys (not to mention the inevitable ruin of many of those devices by spilled drinks and peanuts!).

And, three, in-flight Wi-Fi -- and the ability to continue work non-stop on non-stop flights -- means the end of the "sanctity" of the relative peace, purity and non-24/7 business day offered by air travel (okay, on Southwest Airlines, no such peace and purity exists, but you know what I mean). Sure, we all work on flights, read our work papers, and use our laptops to work on local files. But, now, we will never put our laptops, blackberrys, and work down -- we will be glued to our monitors and feel the need to respond immediately to each and every e-mail that reaches us in the great blue skies.

Is that really a good thing?