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New heights for in-flight Internet


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In-flight Internet has to be affordable, if it is not to go the same way as the in-flight phone: rarely used.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Internet has changed the way many business travelers book their flights, and now it looks set to change the culture within the cabin.

No executive wants to arrive at their hotel room after a long-haul flight and have 100 e-mails waiting for them -- one of the reasons why German carrier Lufthansa took the lead and installed in-flight Internet access last May.

Since then Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines have followed suit, while Singapore Airlines, China Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have announced their intent to install the system on long-range aircraft.

"I would kill for Internet access on a flight to Europe, it is something business travelers want and are willing to pay for," says Chris McGinnis of Travel Skills Group, a business travel consultancy in Atlanta, Georgia.

Boeing's Connexion network charges flat-rate fees from $10 on short flights to $30 for long flights for Internet access, with download data speeds of five Mbps per aircraft, to be shared among all in-flight users.

The price compares favorably with those for using in-flight telephones, which are built into airplane seats. This service -- at more than $2 a minute -- is still expensive and infrequently used by business travelers

In-flight Internet access works by sending electronic signals from planes to orbiting satellites, which are then relayed to ground stations.

Boeing launched the service five years ago, just before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But at that time U.S. airlines were not in a position to take up the service.

Many U.S. airlines are still in a difficult position financially and Delta Airlines is only now considering in-flight Internet -- which would make it the first domestic U.S. airline to do so.

Connexion now faces competition from OnAir, a European joint venture that includes Boeing's rival Airbus.

In-flight expectations

Affordable in-flight Internet access could be a source of revenue for airlines. But service providers may have to bring prices down for uptake to be significant.

Yet Connexion believes the technology will be a great asset for airlines, since the Internet is an important tool, and which business travelers are willing to pay for to catch up on work.

"This technology gives airlines a powerful tool to differentiate themselves from their competition," Stanley Deal from Connexion says.

However, once more airlines sign on, business travelers may begin to expect Internet access on major long-haul business routes.

It could then follow the trend at global five star hotels, where business travelers now expect wireless broadband Internet for free before checking in.

Despina Afentouli contributed to this report for CNN


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