AirTran announced it will install Wi-Fi on its entire fleet of 136 aircraft by July. This would make it the largest airline to fully outfit its planes with wireless service, though Virgin America plans to have Wi-Fi on all of its 28 planes by May 25. AirTran's service will range between $7.95 and $12.95 per flight, depending on duration and device type.
Clearly, Wi-Fi has caught on as the new "must-have" airline perk, replacing seatback TVs, which replaced, what, hot towels? But while nearly all carriers have either tested or begun installing the service, AirTran has lept ahead of the pack, considering its fleet size and rapid delivery of the service. According to USA Today's Ben Mutzabaugh, in-flight Wi-Fi has actually been in the works since October, but information was withheld until now so the airline could deploy quickly following the announcement.
But while AirTran will enjoy the press attention (not to mention the head start in the race for Wi-Fi dominance), it's only a matter of time until its competitors catch up, including much larger carriers like Delta and American. Delta recently revealed it was almost halfway toward equipping its pre-merger fleet with Wi-Fi, and plans to complete installation on its remaining domestic fleet by September. Still, that didn't stop AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro from taking a thinly veiled shot at the world's largest carrier, telling USA Today, "Some carriers have [in-flight wireless] on some flights. We're going to offer passengers certainty, and I think that will give us a leg up."