Kamis, 07 Agustus 2008

The fiercely competitive airline business is turning to technology in the battle for customers.

Since American Airlines began testing Wi-Fi service on live flights in August 2007 and JetBlue Airways began its BetaBlue project in December 2007, other airlines are following suit, including Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

On Tuesday, Delta said it would roll out Wi-Fi access to passengers on its entire fleet for a fee. JetBlue, which has been collecting customer feedback, also plans to expand the service throughout its fleet.

"We are still interviewing customers and surveying them to find out what matters most to them," said Alison Eshelman, a spokesperson for JetBlue. "In June we expanded connectivity services to allow for AOL Mail, Gmail, Windows Live Mail, and Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts."

A major difference between Deltas offering and JetBlue is price. Delta passengers with wireless-enabled laptops, PDAs and smartphones can access the Internet, personal e-mail, and virtual private networks at $9.95 for three hours or less, or $12.95 on flights longer than three hours. JetBlue, however, said its service is currently free.


Aircell, the company equipping Delta with its Gogo Inflight Internet service, said these services are taking off.

"It is no longer, is this something we should be thinking about? Its in the mode of who has the right solution, who has proven or is in the process of proving they can bring this product to market," said John Happ, Aircells executive vice president.

Currently, Aircell is testing its Gogo service on 15 American Boeing 767-200s that are mostly transcontinental flights over the three-hour mark. "That fleet is done and ready to go and are prepared for launch, which is eminent," Happ added. "They are the first contract and first airline that will be in commercial service."

Aircell officials said the service will also be available on the Virgin fleet. Currently 20 Airbuses are equipped, and that number will reach 30 by the end of the year.

It has all been positive for JetBlue. "Customer response has been overwhelmingly positive and passengers have transferred more than 100,000 messages using the Wi-Fi network," said Eshelman.


Airlines in the U.S. are continuing to downsize by decreasing the number of flights, grounding planes, and cutting staff. Since March, the airlines have announced plans to ground more than 200 planes.

To offset skyrocketing fuel costs, the airlines have pushed costs onto customers through ticket prices, surcharges and additional fees, including Deltas $25 fee and Americans $15 fee to check a second bag.

With oil costs, the market has not been elastic enough for airlines to make money on ticket sales, Happ said. "When you stop and think about it, the timing of this rollout for Aircell could not be more perfect," he added.

Airlines may be finding new revenue streams, but they are still losing passengers, according to the Air Transport Association, which reported that early 2.7 million fewer travelers are expected to fly this summer than in 2007.


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