American Airlines has announced that it will equip most of its domestic fleet with gear to offer in-flight WiFi over the next two years, following earlier news from Delta that it would roll out equipment in its planes in a similar timeframe. Given the current economic climate and the downturn in both the number of people traveling and airline's fortunes, the news is a little surprising, perhaps even more so when you consider in-flight internet's track record of failure. It's always been sort of a mystery why so many people indicate so much demand for in-flight internet, but then not enough actual paying customers materialize to keep the services afloat. But technology has advanced some since the satellite-based Connexion system. American and Delta are getting their service from Aircell, which uses ground-to-air communications, instead of satellites, at a much cheaper cost. This may trickle down to the price the airlines charge to end users, but its real value is in lowering the breakeven point, meaning not as many users will be needed to justify the installation and operation costs as with the satellite-based systems. Still, it remains to be seen if the actual demand for these services will ever reach the supposed demand indicated anecdotally and by surveys, but the aggressive expansion plans by cash-strapped airlines indicates they think it will.
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