09/21/2012 11:31 am ET

JetBlue Promises Free Wi-Fi, Faster Connectivity

Traveling has become a special kind of hell in recent years, thanks to ever-multiplying fees. Check a bag, that's $25. Buy a sandwich for the flight, that's another $10. Ask for a blanket or rent a movie? Be prepared to fork over some serious cash.

But when it comes to in-flight Internet, some airlines are moving in the opposite direction from charging additional fees, at least for now. JetBlue announced this week it will offer free Wi-Fi for in-flight use starting early next year. (Hat tip: Time's Moneyland Blog.)

The Wi-Fi won't just be free, according to the company's blog, it's also supposed to slay any other airline's Internet service in terms of connectivity speed. According to the chart JetBlue published with its announcement on Tuesday, the new satellites that its planes will be using to connect passengers to the Internet are 100 times more powerful than the old-school satellites other (unnamed) airlines have been using. However, JetBlue did leave the door open to charging fees in the future -- and said its free basic Wi-Fi service was just "to start."

Some other airlines are testing a modified version of free in-flight Internet, but those feel more like access to a digital SkyMall than an actual Internet connection. (Don't get us wrong, perusing SkyMall for Beer Pagers and DNA analysis kits for your pet is a totally legit way to spend a 4-hour flight.)

For example, Delta allows passengers to connect for free to and several other content partners, but doesn't let fliers roam the Internet wilds. Meanwhile, the airline collects a small commission on purchases made in-flight on Amazon, according to the The Street. American Airlines and US Airways also have offered similar limited Internet services, which nudge passengers towards certain online shops with time-limited Internet access.

Untethered access to the Web, however, will cost you anywhere from $1.95 to $17.95 on American, for example, depending on flight distance and length of access. Virgin America offers in-flight Internet priced from $4.95 to $17.95. These and other major airlines in the United States offer Internet services through Gogo, a mile-high Internet service provider.

Airlines might have good reason to offer Wi-Fi for free: Much like free booze, Internet access could help subdue nervous or impatient passengers. In an era where flights can be stuck on the tarmac for hours and hours and passengers can come unhinged without access to Words With Friends, free Internet access could be a very good thing.



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