JetBlue Airways will start offering limited e-mail and instant messaging services for free on laptops and handhelds with Wi-Fi on one plane next week as airlines renew efforts to offer in-flight Internet access. Web surfing and e-mail attachments won't be permitted because of bandwidth constraints, and services will be limited to e-mail and messaging from Yahoo. Passengers can check other personal and work e-mail - but only on two BlackBerry models.
The JetBlue system is scheduled to make its debut Tuesday on Flight 641 from New York to San Francisco. The aircraft, an Airbus A320, is specially designated "BetaBlue" as it is used to test new entertainment services offered through JetBlue's subsidiary, LiveTV.
JetBlue will be using a wireless spectrum that LiveTV bought last year for $7 million. Because Internet access will use Wi-Fi and not cellular signals, the company said it does not violate federal regulations. Use of laptops and BlackBerry devices will still be barred during takeoff and landing. And the cellular portion of the permitted BlackBerry devices - the 8820 and the Curve 8320 - must be turned off during the flight.
American Airlines is among the carriers planning to test broader, fee-based in-flight Internet services in coming months. Some international carriers had started offering in-flight Internet service through Boeing, but the aircraft maker decided about a year ago to pull the plug on its Connexion service after it failed to sign on enough airlines. First announced in April 2000, Connexion suffered a major setback with potential US airlines after the 2001 terrorist attacks triggered an industrywide downturn. Boeing had deals with major international carriers such as Germany's Lufthansa AG, Japan Airlines Corp., Korean Air Co., and Singapore Airlines, but large US. carriers were reluctant to invest in the service. The Boeing system connected to the Internet via satellites. The JetBlue system will use about 100 ground towers - cheaper, but with less capacity.
Brad Garlinghouse, Yahoo's senior vice president for communications and communities, said the company built special, lightweight versions of its services to work on JetBlue. Chris McGinnis, editor Expedia Travel Trendwatch, said business travelers want in-flight access. He said the restriction to Yahoo e-mail could limit the system's usefulness, but passengers can forward their e-mail to a Yahoo account when traveling. (info from The Associated Press)