JetBlue plans to introduce limited in-flight e-mail and instant messaging access on one airplane on Tuesday.
Customers on the equipped plane will be able to use their laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled phones to access a customized version of Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. BlackBerry users will also be able to check e-mail and use BlackBerry’s IM client on their phones. The service is being launched in partnership with Yahoo and BlackBerry.
In the future, JetBlue hopes to offer additional services beyond e-mail and instant messaging.
JetBlue is in a unique position among airlines because it has licensed spectrum from the FCC that allows it to transmit from planes to the ground. Use of the spectrum isn’t limited to JetBlue, which means the airline could sell a similar service to other carriers.
JetBlue will be one of the first to offer onboard Wi-Fi in the U.S., though others are making similar plans. Virgin America recently said it had signed a deal with Aircell to offer Wi-Fi Internet access on its entire fleet of planes. The service is expected to go live in 2008. Aircell is also signed up to test a Wi-Fi Internet service on American Airlines planes next year.
The idea of Wi-Fi in the sky became popular with a service launched by Boeing, called Connexion, several years ago. While some international airlines including Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa eagerly picked up the service, the U.S. airlines that initially pledged their support pulled out after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001. Connexion shut down its service last year.
While mile-high Internet services have a spotty track record, they are highly coveted by the technology industry elite. In fact, Trolltech Chief Technology Officer Benoit Schilling puts it at the top of his Christmas wish list. “I want to get Wi-Fi back on airplanes,” he said. “That’s something I’m really lusting for.”
Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this story.