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Continental to introduce in-flight DirecTV and Wi-Fi

Continental Airlines plans to offer 36 channels of DirecTV satellite television on flights within the continental U.S. starting in January 2009. Additionally, the airline hopes to make Wi-Fi services available onboard, allowing passengers with smartphones, BlackBerries, and laptops to send and receive emails and instant messages. Internet access is currently in the testing phase. Continental will be the first legacy carrier to have live television onboard. Other major airlines, including American, are testing onboard internet access.

While Continental says it will provide Wi-Fi service for free, it's planning to charge coach passengers $6 to access DirecTV programs. Satellite TV will be free to first-class fliers. For the moment, television monitors are only being installed in new Continental planes coming into service, not fleet-wide.

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Continental's enhancements will likely please customers, many of whom have been starved for added value in these times of high ticket prices and diminishing service. The airline has been voted the country's favorite legacy carrier numerous times, and new entertainment and communication options will further set it apart from its competitors.

However, Continental's additions seem overdue and overpriced compared to those of JetBlue. The low-cost carrier introduced DirecTV in 2000 and continues to offer free television and satellite radio in every seat on every flight. In December, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to have free onboard Wi-Fi on select flights.

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