Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In-flight Wi-Fi? What about in-train Wi-Fi?

AirTran is in the process of rolling out WiFi to all of its planes by the middle of the summer. Some carriers offer Wi-Fi on some of their flights but not all of them, so AirTran will be the first carrier to offer it on all flights all the time. Delta had the Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi system on the flights I took to and from New Orleans last month, but I didn't pay for the privilege. I had brought enough in-flight entertainment options with me, and when I did get out my laptop for a few minutes on the flight home, I barely had enough room to use it. I tried writing the outline for a blog entry about the trip but I couldn't see the screen and type at the same time. I wasn't prepared to pay $8-$10 for mobile Internet when I couldn't read anything. I might give the Internet a shot on a future flight, but with the airlines charging me $15 to check a bag, I feel like they're already getting enough of my money.

However, I would be more interested in Wi-Fi access on Amtrak. I take the train to and from DC several times a year, and to Johnstown for Christmas. The three-hour trip to DC isn't so bad, but I start to get crazy on the seven-hour haul to Johnstown. The ticket for that trip is so cheap that I would gladly pay $10 or $12 for Internet access, even spotty, all the way to Johnstown. It's not that I need to be online that whole time; obviously, I've survived this long and many other trips without it. But it would be a great way to pass the time, in addition to the books and movies I already bring with me. Amtrak has tried onboard Wi-Fi before but I haven't seen or heard about anything on their trains in a few years. I'm sure there are significant technical hurdles. Any Internet access system would have to utilize the cellular network , and on a fast-moving train, you have the same problems as you have in the air: multiple clients being handed off to cell towers at high speeds. But it's 2009 and we're all well-connected travelers. Amtrak, let's get this done already. If the buses to Boston and DC can do it, I'm sure you can too.

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