While in the IT industry we got used to "hard" launches and consider all other variants nothing else but "a paper launch", other industries aren’t exactly aligned with ICT [Information and Communication Technologies]. We are glad that finally an airline industry, notorious for making promises and launching services years before EIS [Entry Into Service] is getting a taste of the basic principles of the IT industry.

Last weekend, I was on a trip to the Midwest to the place of my childhood and I decided to take Orlando, FL based AirTran Airways, as I had never been able to do a direct flight from my current place of residence to that city [SAN to MKE].

Your standard run of the mill AirTran's Boeing 737-700 equipped with wingletsPersonally, I never used AirTran since I usually fly Southwest – they are usually the cheapest and most courteous. This trip was somewhat of a maiden voyage for me on this airline and I had no idea what to expect. When I got on the plane, I was greeted by a run of the mill Boeing 737-700 which is not one of the most comfortable aircrafts to fly in, nor the newest.

AirTran installed "a million dollar upgrade" e.g. winglets which reduce the fuel consumption and save millions each year [6% reduction in fuel consumption], but besides that, there were no IFE systems [In Flight Entertainment] at all and it looked like the flight was going to be a four hour downer, until I saw the words "Wi-Fi Onboard"!

Since there was no public announcement that AirTran is going to deploy Wireless Internet access, needless to say – I was surprised.

After I saw this I just sat down inquisitively wondering whether or not I’d have to pay through the teeth for this service. We were reminded by one of the flight attendants that this was an experimental project and that they had a promotional code for us to use in order to make it free. Yes, free. Now the excitement had definitely set in, especially considering the fact that I was prepared to be forced to listen to my music and read the Wall Street Journal for the entire flight. I then proceeded to logon to the Aircell’s Gogo In-Flight internet service and create myself an account. After entering the code, the laptop immediately connected to the Wi-Fi and started browsing, signed up for an account and entered the promotional code to avoid the $9.95 Charge. What made things interesting is Aircell’s announcement about two new pricing brackets, the $5.95 for short-haul flights and $12.95 pass for 24-hours. Both of these models are available on all AirTran flights.

Aircell Gogo service Speedtest - Reccomended server was Dallas, TX
We were more than a thousand miles away from the test server, given the way how Aircell’s Gogo service works

Of course, this was done once we reached the cruising altitude of 36,000 feet. Once up there, I did something that any self respecting geek would do – I went to speedtest.net. Actually, I ran 3 throughout the course of the flight. While in the air, I managed to post on a few forums, check my email, log onto IRC and AIM, and of course? browse Facebook. I tried to watch YouTube videos, but due to the lack of speed it was somewhat choppy.

Aircell Gogo Plane Internet speedtest.net bandwidth results
Speedtest.net at 36,000 feet/11km off the ground at around 440 mph/643 kph – 1.26Mbps down, 220 Kbps up.

Once my laptop died, I decided to give my phone a go and I connected via Wi-Fi and began to browse BSN* as well as use Skype on my phone. Overall, it was quite an easy process and it required very little effort on my part using my phone or laptop. There were no per-device-limits, since my account is at Aircell servers 36,000 feet below.

Surfing the net beats the lack of IFE, even at a cost
Reading Wall Street Journal with yesterday’s news or getting the latest in tech? I think I prefer… both?

Our experience on the way to MKE and back was flawless, both at 36,000 and at 40,000 feet. In a press release dated July 15, 2009 AirTran announced that they will have Wi-Fi on every plane all the time. And as if Wi-Fi wasn?t enough, AirTran now also offers over 100 channels of XM satellite radio for free, and they even give you free headphones if you don?t have your own.

At the end of the day, it is good to hear that an otherwise woeful travel experience in skies above US is getting better, thanks to the forward-thinking folks at Aircell and airliners such as AirTran and Virgin America.