WiFi-Enabled Planes Let Travelers Surf the Net While They Fly

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NEW YORK ( -- Yahoo's deal last month with Boeing to provide search services for the airplane maker's wireless-enabled fleet opens up the in-flight market to the 100,000 advertisers who buy sponsored links through the Internet portal.
The 100,000 advertisers who buy sponsored links through Yahoo can now reach business travelers through Boeing's in-flight WiFi service.

The WiFi service is available on 100 air routes through the Seattle company’s Connexion by Boeing division. Airlines currently offering WiFi are China Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Japan Airlines, ANA and Singapore Airlines. Five more have said they want to install the system. None are U.S. airlines.

Like a WiFi-enabled coffee shop
“A passenger on a Connexion plane will open up their wireless laptop and use it much the same way they would in a WiFi-enabled coffee shop or inside an airport,” said Niels Steenstrup, director of product management at Connexion by Boeing. the cost of the service is $9.95 for an hour and $29.95 for up to six hours. A Yahoo-branded search box appears after the passenger logs on to the Internet. The user can then go to any search engine or URL, but “it brings Yahoo one click closer to the user,” Mr. Steenstrup said.

Web marketers are hoping they will be able to pitch their products to airline passengers -- in-flight -- who might use the time spent in the air to do a little online shopping.

In-flight hotspots are an amenity that airlines can use to differentiate themselves from their competitors, said Julie Ask, a research director at Jupiter Research. If a business traveler is paying up to $8,000 for an international ticket anyway, they won’t mind paying a little more for WiFi, she said. “[Airlines] really need reasons for folks to choose them.”

That’s Lufthansa’s strategy. The German airline offers broadband wireless connections on 60% of its long-haul fleet, which it started with the Munich-to-Los Angeles route in May 2004. The carrier's free-of-charge FlyNet portal offers a limited amount of news, financial coverage, weather and Lufthansa-branded shopping. But for an extra charge, Connexion by Boeing opens the gates to the entire Internet, allowing the passenger to surf the Web, check e-mail and tune in to Live Global Television.

Ahead of its time
In-air WiFi may be a little ahead of its time. Consumers did not list shopping as one of the top activities they pursue when going online in public hotspots, according to a recent Jupiter Research survey. E-mail was their most preferred activity, followed by browsing the Internet and gathering information on local events, restaurants and traffic.

The service seems to be catching on, albeit slowly. Lufthansa said only 10 passengers per flight take advantage of the WiFi connection. It is not known how many actually make purchases en route. But Lufthansa sees WiFi as a way to remain technologically innovative, the spokesman said.

Type A techie
But Mr. Steenstrup pointed out that the business traveler is a great target for Connexion by Boeing. That traveler is a “Type A techie” who is an early adopter of technology and a heavy Internet user with an average income of $150,000, he said.

Ms. Ask expects the service to catch on with this target. “People on flights want to stay productive and can expense the cost.”

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