American will install in-flight Wi-Fi on more than 300 aircraft over the next two years. The carrier has been testing onboard Wi-Fi for almost a year and introduced the service on limited routes last summer. The pricing is similar to what I've seen from Virgin America and Delta, but with a twist: The fee for flights longer than three hours is $12.95; under three hours is $9.95; but passengers using mobile devices, such as an IPhone, pay only $7.95 regardless of flight length. As far as I know, no other airline is offering a reduced price for mobile devices.
So far, the only carrier with a more ambitious Wi-Fi plan is Delta, which aims to have its service installed fleetwide by the end of the year, but other carriers are somewhere in the process of adding Wi-Fi as well:
- JetBlue was on the scene early when it rolled out BetaBlue, a single plane with limited (but free) onboard Wi-Fi. But since then the carrier has been fairly quiet.
- Continental also jumped in early, but hasn't made a peep about its Wi-Fi plans in well over a year.
- Virgin America recently debuted its Wi-Fi service on flights to and from Boston, and hopes to expand fleetwide later this year.
- Southwest is testing in-flight Wi-Fi but hasn't said when the service will roll out (if it does).
While American appears ahead of the curve, I wonder if the upper end of its price range will be too steep for all but the most dedicated business travelers (though it's really not a bad price when you think about it—roughly $2.60 per hour on a New York-to-Los Angeles flight). Still, the service will likely be popular with a sizeable chunk of laptop-carrying leisure travelers looking for a distraction.
But it's the mobile-device fee that sets American's service apart. Passengers can do just about anything with their handheld devices, from email to Facebook updates, and $7.95 seems like a reasonable price to charge for a very useful service. On that same New York-to-Los Angeles flight, a passenger using a BlackBerry would pay about $1.60 per hour. Not bad. Plus, how cool would it be to send emails (or, as an alternative, read Today in Travel) from a plane?! 35,000 feet in the air?! What's next, flying cars?