Delta to offer in-flight Internet on East Coast shuttle flights

Delta Air Lines will be the latest domestic airline to offer in-flight Internet for passengers, launching paid Wi-Fi service on Tuesday on its East Coast shuttle flights.

The Atlanta-based airline will initially introduce GoGo, an Internet service operated by Aircell, on five MD-88s flying the New York LaGuardia-Boston Logan and New York LaGuardia-Washington Reagan routes (however in January, Delta will begin flying the New York-Washington, D.C. route with planes operated by contract carrier Shuttle America, whose Embraer 175s won't be equipped with WiFi). A Boeing 757-200 is also equipped with GoGo.

Passengers on the shuttle flights can expect about 40 minutes of Internet surfing time, says Chris Babb, a Delta product manager.

The carrier plans to add "a plane every two or three days" with the goal of equipping its entire mainline domestic fleet by the end of next year, Babb says.

The service will cost $9.95 for flights less than three hours and $12.95 for longer flights. As a promotion, Delta's new service will be free for the first two weeks.

"We've known for several years, through market research, that this is one of the most asked-for products," Babb says.

Two other carriers have introduced full in-flight Wi-Fi Internet access this year, also through Aircell's GoGo. Virgin America recently has installed GoGo on one Airbus A320 aircraft, and plans to expand it to the other 24 planes in its fleet by mid-2009. In June, American Airlines started offering Gogo on 15 of its Boeing 767 aircraft.

Working with its entertainment subsidiary, LiveTV, JetBlue introduced a text message/e-mail service last year on one aircraft as a trial.

LiveTV and Aircell rely on existing cell towers to beam transmissions. While this "air-to-ground" technology is less expensive for airlines to install, it limits access to flying over land. AirCell says it may partner with a satellite company in the future to provide over-water service. Meanwhile, it's working with Canadian authorities to install its towers in the country.

With several carriers now on board, in-flight Internet is making a comeback after Connexion by Boeing was shut off at the end of 2006. Connexion's satellite-based system proved to be too expensive for domestic carriers, and it couldn't find enough passenger demand for the $30-a-flight service.

Among other carriers that have revealed their Wi-Fi plans:

•Air Canada will offer Gogo next year on several Airbus A319s that fly to the USA, with plans to expand it to the rest of the fleet later.

•Alaska Airlines plans to test a satellite-based system — operated by California-based Row 44 — on a Boeing 737 in 2009.

•Southwest Airlines has also signed with Row 44 and will test it in four aircraft early next year.

•Continental Airlines plans to introduce an e-mail and instant-messaging service operated by LiveTV next year.