Will Free Airport Wi-Fi Take Flight?

I imagine you are. I hope Congress is -- and for sure, the airports. After all, they can't wait to get their hands on some of that stimulus money -- in fact, the airports are looking for a cool $3 billion for capital improvements. As John Clark, chairman of the Airports Council International-North America said, airports need that stimulus because they "have the responsibility to the traveling public to keep facilities safe, secure and efficient." Tell me what's more efficient -- more stimulating -- than free Wi-Fi.

Plus, when it's free -- more people use it. At Denver International, for example, their old "for pay" Wi-Fi setup generated only about 600 connections a day -- but once they switched to free Wi-Fi, the figure zoomed to between 4,000 and 5,000 daily connections. Talk about stimulating!

Just think what this could do for the economy: instead of frustrated laptoppers giving up and standing in that 100-person line at Starbucks (you know that line -- the one serviced by a single barista), people will be on their laptops networking -- or chatting -- or investing -- or shopping.

In other words, doing things that make the economy go 'round.

Free Wi-Fi: Not a Perk, an Expectation

Alright, some will be reading the Daily Puppy, but you see what I mean. And hey, there is a way for airports to continue generating revenue, even with free Wi-Fi -- it's called advertising.

They're looking into that at North Carolina's Charlotte Douglas International as a way to cover some of the costs of their free Wi-Fi, which they have no plans to drop. The reason? They say, for travelers these days, free Wi-Fi is not a perk -- it's an expectation. An expectation that's increasingly important to busy, harried passengers.

Like all those busy, harried passengers shuttling through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson. Oh, and did you hear? Atlanta airport officials are "currently researching ways to provide free Wi-Fi access for visitors" -- to create a better customer service experience, as they say.

Did I say I was grumpy? I'm starting to feel a bit better now.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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