Joe Brancatelli, veteran business and travel reporter, keeps looking for traces of potential revenue from in-flight Internet access: He's not finding it. He and I chatted today, and based on yesterday's numbers from Aircell, which put them on track to hit 100,000 sessions a week on over 600 equipped aircraft, Joe figures that's a 5 percent uptake: roughly 2 million people fly weekly in his estimation. And, as I noted yesterday, we don't know how many of the nearly 100,000 sessions are paid. Virgin America is all free, sponsored by Google, and each airline has a first-session-free deal in place, too.
In the Portfolio.com column I link above, Brancatelli runs through the problem with charging: passengers just don't seem to want to pay. Alaska Airlines is committed to rolling out Wi-Fi with Row 44--just like Southwest--but found that it will have to give the service away. Even $1, in testing, had a big dropoff. (Row 44 has the small problem of needing to raise cash to afford installing its service in the two committed airline; Aircell, Brancatelli reports, is largely funding installation out of its own so-far deep pocket.)
Joe told me that he uses Aircell's service whenever he flies on a plane with it, paying whatever rate he has to, and misses it when he's on a flight without it. So he's not skeptical about it working, nor whether it's worthwhile. Rather, he hasn't seen any positive indications yet that business or recreational travelers are leaping at the offering.
Meanwhile, Air Canada starts trials on US legs of its flights. Aircell will work with a Canadian partner to build out service over Canada when all the regulatory issues are finalized.