While inflight wifi hasn't moved much beyond the test stages on Australian flights yet, it's immensely popular in the US, with Virgin America CEO David Cush saying that inflight wifi "is now an expectation of business travelers."
Australian Business Traveller tested out the inflight Internet on Virgin America recently -- check out what we thought of the Gogo wifi service in our review.
But what perecentage of passengers really use it? "On a system average we're in the low- to mid-20s. However, that varies widely by flight. If you look at our San Francisco-Boston, which is our highest penetration flight, we generally are over 50 percent on that flight. Same thing on San Francisco-JFK," Cush said recently in an interview with New York-based NYC Aviation.
San Francisco to New York JFK is roughly the same sort of flight times you'll see between Sydney and Perth. Imagine half the passengers on your next transcontinental flight being online, and you can see why the problem isn't that inflight wifi isn't there -- it's that it's not fast enough.
Cush explains that the fact that many more people are using wifi is "becoming a little bit of a problem. The network is slowed down."
So how is Virgin America planning to fix it?
"We will be the launch customer for the new Gogo antenna, which will be a multi-directional antenna that can point to the most underused cell. We hope we can get that on an airplane this summer and test it out. But our plan is, if it does what they say it will do, which is four-times the speed that we currently have, then we'll put it on all the airplanes," Cush promises.
Gogo is the air-to-ground version of inflight Internet, used by Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, United, US Airways and Virgin America on flights around North America. It's installed on over 1500 planes worldwide.
It differs from the version we see in flights from (and hopefully soon around) Australia, which is a slower air-to-satellite system used in areas where the air-to-ground tower infrastructure isn't there.
That kind of system is planned (or in place already) for several airlines in our neck of the woods. Check out the current situation and future prospects for inflight Internet on:
Whether or not you're in the air, for the very latest news for business travellers and frequent flyers, tune into @AusBT on Twitter!
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.