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Flying the Unwired Skies

Introduction

Updated 31 March 2005

It's the third or fourth hour of the flight that the lassitude sets in. You've been fed (meagerly), read part of a book, flipped through the in-flight magazine, and watched part of a movie that you didn't want to see on the ground. Now what do you do for the next two, three - or 10 hours?

Connexion by Boeing wants to turn your on-plane boredom and downtime into productive time by pumping in a high-speed broadband Internet connection via satellite. The Connexion service has been in the works for years, and almost faltered after September 11 caused a downturn in domestic U.S. airline sustainability and worldwide business activity.

However, the division retooled its efforts, refocused on long-haul flights, and has brought an Internet service to market that, so far, appears to deliver on its promise based on a test flight that I took in the Seattle, Washington area, and on the experiences of several travelers, including one of Toms' own editors.

Figure 1: Surfing the Net at 30,000 feet
(click image to enlarge)

The service is so far live on certain planes and routes from Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SAS, ANA, and Japan Airlines, with China Airlines, El Al, and Korean Air coming this year. British Airways has signed a letter of intent but has no timeline on adding service. Lufthansa has Connexion reliably on about 13 cities in North American to and from Germany, while SAS has committed to Connexion on all flights to and from Seattle.

Connexion, through its airline partners, offers both flat rate and pay-as-you-go plans. Flights of less than three hours cost $14.95 for unlimited use; three to six hours, $19.95; and more than six hours, $29.95. The pay-as-you-go option offers 30 minutes for $9.95 and 25 cents per minute thereafter. While the per-minute rate is steep, for those who need relatively little access during a long flight, paying $10 to $15 for 30 to 50 minutes of access might make more sense than ponying up $30 for unlimited access. Most business travelers, however, will simply pay for unlimited access.

For one-off uses, you sign up through a connection screen that's just like those used in terrestrial hotspots. Credit card information is secured via an SSL connection.