Airlines eye free Wi-Fi for travelers

Airlines eye free Wi-Fi for travelers

It should serve as the death knell for Internet connection charges in upscale hotels.

The pressure started with budget hotels tossing in free wi-fi connections along with their breakfast buffets. Then restaurants followed until the sign “free wi-fi here” became a staple of McDonald’s, Panera Bread and even little mom-and-pops like Aviano’s pizza.

Now it seems airlines might be the next hospitality arena to offer Internet without a $10.95 24-hour charge.

JiWire and Row 44 are reportedly in talks with Southwest and Alaska Airlines to deliver wi-fi network paid all or in large part by advertising instead of log-on fees. The specifics are sketchy — some speculate users will have to stroll through a virtual mall to reach the Wild, Wild Net, a modern twist on the SkyMall catalogue.

The idea would certainly appeal to a business audience that has pulled its dollars from the travel industry in this recession. In fact, surveys by the Wi-Fi Alliance show that 76 percent of business travelers would pick an airline based on wireless access, and more than 70 percent would choose wi-fi over a meal service.

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And it should go a long way toward converting the Internet from a service to a standard throughout the entire industry, similar to a televsion set. Hotels need to watch this experiment quickly … and it wouldn’t hurt the cruise lines to eavesdrop, too.

Photography courtesy mujitra (Flickr)