Connectivity and productivity are twin jet engines on the new business model. Without one, the other loses power.
Airport Wi-Fi has helped fill the gaps between reports and video conferencing while en route; however, in-flight connectivity has been a little sketchy. Thanks to improved cellular and satellite technology and multimedia platforms, it’s easier than ever to keep the rest of the team up to date on action items (and maybe watch a movie, too).
The following gadgets and services for business travelers will help you get the most out of your in-flight Wi-Fi experience.
Okay, so working might not be your idea of "entertainment." However, when you synch up with the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, you also have the option to watch videos, message, play games and in some cases do a little video chatting while thousands of feet above terra firma.
Aircell’s Gogo is positioning itself as a leader in IFE with a newly improved multimedia platform and feistier cellular base stations that bolster the Aircell Central Processing Unit (ACPU) aboard planes. Content is pushed from the cockpit to your device, so it’s more streamlined.
Gogo lists the following airlines as participants in its attempt to take over the cloudwaves: Air Canada, Air Tran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, United, US Airways and Virgin America. The next step is international flights, which relies more on satellite technology.
Row44, offered on Southwest and Lufthansa, specializes in satellite-based broadband. The private-labeled portal includes IPTV, video and audio content, shopping sites, texting, games, travel information and special offers.
Insert your own laptop/smartphone/tablet here
Approximately 68 percent of people already fly with their own Wi-Fi-enabled device. Whether it’s a laptop, netbook, smartphone or tablet, most business travelers know the mobile-office drill. If for some reason you don’t have one on you, or you had to check it last minute because the guy in 17F used up the last overhead luggage space, some airlines will give you one.
Virgin America teamed up with Google in late June to offer Chromebooks on flights from San Francisco to Boston, Chicago O’Hare and Dallas airports until September 20; passengers can pick up one at the gate and use the cloud-based computer for free. American Airlines gives "premium cabin" passengers access to its IFE systems with Samsung 10.1-inch Galaxy Tabs. Offerings are slim at the moment, but after the beta period, who knows?
In-flight instant messaging
While more of a communication tool than a gadget, Inflight Messenger enables passengers to stay connected with up to 25 business associates at once while in-flight. It makes use of the aircraft’s Wi-Fi to provide real-time, two-way communications. Inflight Messenger also offers a history function and a calendar that allows users to input appointments, events, and schedules.
You won’t be able to make calls with Aircell’s new Android-based smartphone unless you have access to the company jet. Designed specifically for private aircraft use, the phone has a "big, bright, 3.8 color touchscreen display" and boasts a "high-touch design with expert use of colors, materials, and finishes." Not available until late 2011, the Aircell Smartphone seems to be out of reach for must of us plebes—we’ll just have to stick to in-flight browsing with our iPhones and Androids.
While there’s some debate as to which device is better—seat-centric or handheld—Virgin has invested in seat panels; and, Panasonic has just come out with its own IFE system called eX3. It’s a dual-screen system that uses both a seatback monitor and a smaller handheld device. Rumor has it that the controller has a capacitive touch screen and 3D capabilities. Users will have access to movies, music videos, the Internet, games and possibly video conferencing.
With all of this nifty gadgetry, remember to carry battery extension devices, earphones and other essentials that will support your in-flight experience. And just because you’re flying high, don’t forget to keep yourself grounded and safe. Use the same Wi-Fi rules in the air that you do on the earth. You still need to protect your passwords and identity, especially in the close quarters of an airplane.
Here are some additional trends to watch:
The "Hang-Up Act", which disallows the use of mobile phones (and VoIP), is currently in flux. If the language changes, this could mean even more connectivity.
Other airlines may mimic Virgin America and offer perks such as open-source gaming and flying chat rooms.
Some IFEs may integrate with other on-air services such as communication with the flight staff (message: "Please bring me a Heineken (14C).").