AirTran's in-flight Wi-Fi service takes off with test flight

AirTran Airwaysaai launched its wireless Internet service Tuesday, allowing passengers on a promotional test flight to quickly connect to and browse the Web at 39,000 feet.

The Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi service — which AirTran says will be on each of its 136 jetliners by late July — performed as advertised.

But the promotional flight from Baltimore/Washington International up the Eastern Seaboard pointed out one shortcoming in cruising the Web in the air: a lack of electrical outlets, which could prove troublesome for customers whose flights last longer than their devices' battery lives.

Tad Hutcheson, AirTran's vice president of marketing and sales, acknowledged the power problem. He said it's a priority for AirTran to resolve the issue but conceded, "That's not likely to happen anytime soon."

AirTran's promotional flight points up how fast airlines are racing to provide Wi-Fi capability on their planes after experimenting with it for more than a year.

Airlines see the service as a way to lure lucrative business travelers and boost revenue during the economic downturn.

Wi-Fi "is not just a luxury, it's a necessity" as AirTran looks to stay ahead of its rivals, said Bob Fornaro, AirTran CEO.

AirTran will charge $12.95 for a "Gogo Flight Pass" that covers both laptops and mobile devices on flights of three hours or longer. The fee drops to $9.95 for flights that are shorter than three hours. AirTran also will offer a "Gogo Mobile Flight Pass" for $7.95. As the name suggests, that plan covers only mobile devices but is good on flights of any length.

The airline wouldn't say how much it expects to make from the service.

There will be pornography filters to help prevent access to inappropriate websites. Access to Skype and other Internet-based phone calls will not be allowed.

AirTran is the first big U.S. airline to guarantee wireless capability on every flight nationwide.

Virgin America, a smaller carrier, says it will be able to make the same claim by the end of this month by having the capability on its 28-plane fleet.

Big carriers, including Delta Air Linesdal, American Airlinesamr and United Airlinesuaua, are equipping planes for service on domestic routes later this year.

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