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American launches inflight Web services

American Airlines rolled out in-flight Internet access on a handful of flights Wednesday, hoping to eventually offer the service on its airplanes nationwide.

The Fort Worth-based carrier has partnered with communications firm Aircell to provide the wireless Internet service, dubbed “Gogo.” Customers will pay $12.95 on flights more than three hours, and $9.95 on shorter trips.

The service was rolled out on long-haul routes flown by American’s Boeing 767-200 jets, between New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles. After three to six months, the airline will decide whether to broaden the service to its entire domestic network.

“We’ve heard for a long time that our customers are very interested in (Internet) connectivity,” said Doug Backelin, the airline’s in-flight products program manager.

Both business and leisure travelers have shown interest in going online during flights, he said.

“You have people who want to get work done online, but you also have leisure travelers who want to find a restaurant, or keep in touch with family or just surf the Internet,” he said.

American isn’t disclosing its terms with Aircell, but airline officials said the two companies will share the revenue.

While American is the first out of the gate, most large airlines also plan to offer Internet access in the sky. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is developing a system with communications firm Row 44, while Delta Air Lines says it will have Internet access on its entire fleet by next year.

The Gogo service is accessible on any computer, PDA or mobile device that can accept a Wi-Fi signal. Passengers can log on once the aircraft reached 10,000 feet, and pay the fee online using a credit card.

American is also offering free access to its site at www.aa.com.

A variety of informational material and instructions will be available in the plane to help users connect, said Jack Blumenstein, Aircell’s president and chief executive.

Passengers who connect but are having difficulty logging on or using the service can even chat live with technical support specialists on the ground, he said.

He added that flight attendants won’t be trained or expected to provide tech support for online services.

“We didn’t want to do anything that would increase the workload of the flight crew,” he said.

Shares of AMR Corp., American’s parent company (ticker: AMR), were up 34 cents to $10.42 per share in mid-morning trading Wednesday.

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