Fly the WiFi skies

While I’m guessing it could be difficult due to airport utilities restrictions and existing telecom contracts, I’d love to see one of the national airlines embrace wifi. Picture this: one airline being known for having free wireless near their gates at every major airport across the country. An airline that was wifi-friendly would be known by business people overnight as the airline to take (or at least the terminal to hang out nearby when you fly).

Washington Mutual is the only bank in the states that offers free ATM use for everyone, and it’s pretty much ingrained in my family and friends that if someone needs to stop at an ATM to grab some cash, everyone prefers the Washington Mutual one. As a result of their kind gesture, I have explored getting a home loan and business accounts with them (I always do my personal banking at a credit union), solely because I regard them as generous for not charging people pointless electronic transaction fees.

The pro-wifi airline could gain similar publicity and word-of-mouth buzz by offering free, open wireless access points near their gates. It wouldn’t cost that much to get a DSL drop near a gate and toss 2 or 3 $99 base stations into the ceiling. Annual operating costs for each airport could be as low as $1k a year, making a nationwide investment for every airport cost only a couple hundred grand (and I’m sure to make it cheaper, a company like Linksys or MS would donate the products if they got to plug them to users connecting). I imagine that whatever airline did it would be an instant hit with laptop users, and geeks would no longer need to search online for what airport offers wifi through whom and for how much. The last time I was in Denver, I noticed three different wifi vendors offering access in the terminal, all for different rates, while most airports I end up at don’t offer any at all.

The airline industry is notoriously a cut-throat business and with decreased leisure travel, razor thin profit margins, and pricing wars, a good gimmick would go a long way. It’s low cost, high utility, and would please a good deal of people that fly frequently. Eventually the same airline could outfit planes with wireless and be the business airline, but I can wait until that’s more of a realistic possibility; for now putting wireless in all their terminals should be the goal.

What do you say American? Alaska, are you in? JetBlue, want to do something even better than TV in every seat? Southwest, you’re known for keeping people sitting around your terminals, how about making them happy? United, you’ve been near bankruptcy for a couple years and we bailed you out, how about giving the people something back for all the money they gave you? Anyone?

(note: written while stranded wi-fi free in PDX, posted from my Vancouver hotel room which features open, free wireless. Canada knows how to party.)