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Online in the skies: Staying connected while in flight

May 04, 20062 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* Making use of flight time

Time spent in an airplane, particularly for frequent business travelers, is a necessary evil from a time management perspective. It also represents a significant period of downtime for many travelers, particularly those who live in their e-mail system and who depend on electronic communications to get their work done.

There are now offerings that enable various forms of in-flight connectivity. Connexion by Boeing, for example, offers the ability to send and receive e-mail (including attachments), access a corporate VPN, use instant messaging services and access the Internet all using your own laptop via an on-board Wi-Fi system. A number of airlines currently offer the Boeing service, including SAS, Lufthansa, Korean Air, El Al, Japan Air Lines and Singapore Airlines, among several others. Pricing is not outlandish, ranging from $9.95 for one hour of access to $26.95 for 24 hours.

Verizon offers its Airfone service that allows its wireless telephone customers to place calls using the on-board telephone located in the seat back. Users of the system can also receive calls by giving callers an activation code, which the recipient pre-programs for each flight so that the call can be received at his or her seat. The Verizon network consists of 135 ground stations that receive and send calls from and to the aircraft using two narrow bandwidth data streams.

OnAir is a joint venture of SITA and Airbus that currently offers the ability to use Webmail, chat and text messaging from passengers’ laptops. The company plans to offer passengers the ability to use their own cell phones and BlackBerry devices beginning in 2007. Earlier this month, OnAir announced that the first aircraft to use its inflight mobile phone system will be an Air France A318 that will undergo a six-month trial for short-haul flights in Europe and North Africa.

Airborne communications using laptops and other personal devices has been a long time coming, but its advent will make flight time a bit more productive.