This past December, JetBlue became the
first U.S. domestic airline to launch inflight Wi-Fi services
aboard one of its planes, dubbed BetaBlue. The BetaBlue aircraft is
equipped with a wireless network that offers free customized
versions of both Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger to laptop users,
as well as e-mail access to passengers traveling with BlackBerry
8820 or Curve 8320 smart phones.
JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV provides the
wireless coverage and likely will add more Internet-related
features in the near future, according to a company spokesperson.
The airline will collect customer feedback on BetaBlue over the
next several months before developing a timeline for rolling out
the technology to the rest of its fleet.
Meanwhile, inflight Wi-Fi will be on
the menu this year on American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska
Airlines, if all goes according to plan. American and Virgin both
intend to begin testing Aircell’s wireless broadband network within
the next couple of months.
For its part, Aircell is promising a
high-speed Internet connection as well as VPN access and e-mail
service, accessible via any Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or PDAs. Virgin
America’s aircraft also will offer e-mail and chat service through
the seatback entertainment systems.
Alaska Airlines, perhaps in
consideration of Microsoft’s connectivity-loving minions in the
Pacific Northwest, intends to pilot broadband service with provider
Row 44 on one of its planes this spring, with an eye toward rolling
out the service on a larger scale later this year and aboard the
whole fleet by the end of 2009.
What will passengers pay for all this?
While JetBlue’s service should remain free for the foreseeable
future, connectivity on other airlines -- which aim to provide more
robust connections with more bandwidth -- will come at a price, as
yet to be determined. An American spokesperson says Aircell, not
the airline, will set the price, which will apply throughout the
aircraft and should be about what customers pay to get online at
most Wi-Fi hotspots -- in the $10 range.
Airport transportation provider
SuperShuttle is claiming to have improved efficiency on the ground
by implementing “delivery-optimization software” called Auto
Routing, co-developed with business-process solutions company
Profit Point and location-intelligence technology provider Pitney
According to SuperShuttle, Auto Routing
reduces the gap between pick-up times, as well as the amount of
time customers spend on vans and overall airport turnaround time.
What’s more, an entire day’s route allegedly can be mapped out in
less than a minute, a process that otherwise can take a dispatcher
four to eight hours. (SuperShuttle says its managers and
dispatchers now can focus more on customer-service issues.)
Hail Me a Pod
London’s Heathrow Airport has begun
construction on an entirely new form of ground transportation, a
set of electrically powered pods called the Personal Rapid Transit
(PRT) System. Each of the 18 low-energy, driverless vehicles will
seat up to just four passengers as well as their luggage, and will
travel on a dedicated guideway.
Benefits of these futuristic vehicles
will include zero local emissions, about 50 percent better energy
efficiency than typical buses and almost no wait time for
The initial phase of the US$49.7
million project, for which more than two miles of “track,” or
guideway, are planned, is slated to open in 2009 and will provide
transport between the business parking lot and Heathrow’s new
Terminal 5, due to open next month.
In the future, Heathrow officials plan
to extend the PRT network across the airport as well as to other