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Email, Web surfing soon available from 35,000 feet

Starting next week, travelers will be able to get online in the air. Specifically, the Associated Press reports that JetBlue will be offering email and instant messaging services on flight 641 from New York to San Francisco. This will be a free service, available through two BlackBerry models (8820 and Curve 8320) with wireless features. Additionally, email and messaging will only be available through Yahoo! at this time. Passengers will not be able to surf the Web or send email attachments—but that’s not far off in the future.

American Airlines is hard at work developing a fee-based broadband service on its flights. Powered by Aircell’s Internet Broadband Service, passengers will be able to surf the web and check email (regardless of provider) on laptops and PDAs that have wireless access. A launch date for in-flight online access, as well as specific fees for such services, has not yet been determined. Expect other airlines to quickly follow suit.

I know this will be a boon for some people, particularly business travelers, as a flight now can be used for maximum productivity, with the ability to stay on top of emails and keep in touch with the office and clients. For people like me, though, who approach a flight as a few precious uninterrupted hours to read and snooze, it may be an unwelcome distraction. Perhaps it will be best regarded as a perk for limited use, like any PDA, cell phone, or digital toy—take advantage of it when needed, disregard it when it isn’t.

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