The Weird State of In-Flight Wi-Fi in the USS

Airlines don't officially compete on being the most efficient at stripping away your remaining tatters of dignity. No, the new battleground is in-flight Wi-Fi. I'm somehow unsurprised the worst airline in the country is winning.

That's right, AirTran is winning on two fronts. AirTran will be the first carrier to offer Wi-Fi on every single flight (granted, they're a smaller airline, so it's a much smaller feat than Delta is facing). And they charge a (slightly) reduced rate of $8 for using just your iPhone or BlackBerry on Wi-Fi, not the full $10 that's the going rate for flights under 3 hours.

Still, that little airlines like AirTran are ponying up is good for competition in one sense—the day before, Delta announced that half of their fleet had Wi-Fi and the rest will by September, a little ahead of schedule. And American Airlines is busy outfitting their fleet, too.

But the NYT raises a few sobering points about in-flight Wi-Fi: There's basically no evidence there's huge demand for the pricey service (nerds don't constitute huge demand and even some of them are skeptical, see point #1). Meaning the $100,000-per-plane systems could hobble the already gimply airline industry even more.

Also, many flights, unlike Virgin, don't have electrical outlets. Not to mention all the other stuff, like crappy bandwidth and the like. Still, I think the first flight I'm on with Wi-Fi, I'm going to at least try it. [NYT via ZDNet]