It looks like the first U.S. carrier to offer in-flight Wi-Fi using a satellite-based setup will be Alaska Airlines, which plans to roll the service out to its entire fleet by 2009, pending the results of a monthlong test this spring. Using Row 44's satellite system instead of an air-to-ground one, a la Virgin America and AirCell, means more bandwidth and wider coverage, at least according to Row 44's CEO.
Either way, since AA's routes go outside of the continental US and therefore AirCell's coverage, satellites seem to be the only way to cover every route they offer. Unlike past satellite offerings though, supposedly Route 44's setup is fairly quick and easy without exorbitant overhead, so hopefully the free access proposed for first and elite class passengers will trickle down to coach—though "a few dollars" for all-day access is reasonable enough not to awaken our inner Scrooge. [WSJ]