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American to test in-flight Internet, broad service coming soon

Wireless in-flight Internet service took another big step forward when American announced it will begin testing its own onboard Web product. The service will undergo trials on two flights between New York and Los Angeles on June 25, with broader customer testing to follow on planes that fly from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. Once it goes live, American’s onboard Wi-Fi will cost between $9.95 and $12.95, depending on the flight length.

American isn’t the only airline looking to add in-flight Internet to its planes, as JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines have all actively pursued the technology. But American has quickly jumped ahead of the game, having already installed in-flight Wi-Fi on 15 of its Boeing 767-200 planes, and is ready to activate the service following successful testing. Until now, JetBlue had been the only airline to test in-flight Wi-Fi.

After months and months of baggage fees and beverage charges, we may finally be looking at an onboard amenity that not only increases passenger satisfaction, but is worth what the airline charges. For business travelers, in-flight email access will be incredibly valuable, and regular folks like us will be able to read our favorite blogs, check sports scores, or do some online shopping (wait—will onboard Wi-Fi mean the downfall of that bastion of in-flight commerce, the SkyMall catalog?).

Is $9.95 to $12.95 a little steep? The cynics among us will certainly ponder this question, and the reality could very well be that the price is high enough to deter some passengers from signing on. After all, a magazine at the airport will cost about $5 and provide almost as much time-killing entertainment as the Web. But the novelty and convenience of Internet access in the air, while difficult to judge, is no doubt significant, and my guess is that we’re looking at an onboard amenity that’s here to stay.

Will you pay as much as $12.95 to access in-flight Internet? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.

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