Through the month of March, Southwest Airlines is joining the ranks of air carriers trying out in-flight Wi-Fi service for passengers.
The no-frills airline with its laid back seating system and sunny employees, is experimenting with Wi-Fi hotspots on four of its aircraft. Details about which routes will include Wi-Fi-enriched cabins are unavailable, but the four equipped airplanes will be flying through the Southwest system, giving passengers on a variety of routes the opportunity to hop on the network and try it out. “Wi-Fi Hot Spot” signs will let travelers know that they’re on-board an aircraft with Wi-Fi.
The service will be offered for free during the testing phase, in exchange for answering a customer feedback survey. It will then become fee-based (at a rate to be determined) if the project gets a green light.
Southwest has partnered with Yahoo! to provide a landing page/portal that will include ads, city-specific “destination guides,” news and special features, such as graphics to track their flight’s progress and photos of the places they are flying over. Unlike Yahoo!’s partnership with JetBlue, which required travelers to use only Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Instant Messenger (and BlackBerry e-mail and messaging, thanks to a relationship with RIM), Internet access on Southwest flights will not be limited to any particular device or service. Users can check e-mail, download music, or surf the Web to their heart’s content, or very nearly; the airline says it will attempt to filter “indecent content.” Video downloads, voice calls, and other high-bandwidth applications will also be blocked.
The Southwest 802.11a/b/g WLAN–“SouthwestWi-Fi”—uses satellite backhaul and is available to any passenger with a Wi-Fi-enabled device equipped with an Internet browser.
Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-FiPlanet. She has been covering technology-related news since 1994.