Planes, Trains, and Free Wi-Fi

by John Rogers on Jul 16, 2010

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Missing Connections

Perhaps the one thing that really stranded Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) wasn’t their miserable luck, but a simple lack of technology.  If Planes, Trains, and Automobiles were remade today, I have to think the main antagonist would be the absence of internet or cell signal.

We live in one of the most digitally connected societies in the World, but the second the 3G signal disappears from our iPhone we freak.  You could be surrounded by a room full of people but suddenly you feel strangely cut off from the world around you.  There’s just something about those magical bars that warm your inner geek and reassure you that an unlimited amount of information and entertainment is but a click away.

Soup, Sandwich, and a Side of Broadband

For me, the same is true for Wi-Fi.  Sadly enough, I’ve even changed my lunch plans to include a restaurant that offers wifi…or more specifically free wifi (thank you very much Panera Bread.)  And just recently, Starbucks flipped on free wifi at their U.S. locations (with more rolling out internationally.)

So what if the same concept were applied to more than just fast food chains?  What if more airports, planes, and even commuter trains began to offer free wifi?

How many of you have popped open your laptop on a layover only to find out that pulling up your website du jour will cost you $10.  Excuse me, I mean $9.99 for two hours and $14.99 for an entire 24 hours.

Are you serious!? That’s highway robbery.

We all know wifi networks are comparatively cheap to set up.  Why then should two hours of checking scores on SportsCenter pay for your airports monthly internet bill?

Wi-fi, To Go

But what about planes and trains?  The technology might cost a bit more to pipe in an internet signal via satellite, but what if you became the only airline to offer completely free wi-fi access for all domestic flights?  I’d say, you’d have yourself a key competitive difference in today’s cut throat travel industry.

So what gives?  Why have major travel carriers hesitated to roll out the service for free to the masses?  Dollar dollar bills.  For one, the technology is still very pricey to install and maintain.  And consumers are still willing to pay for the novelty. That last part is key.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule.  Case in point: Amtrak.  That’s right, the good folks that offer rail service throughout the Continental U.S. are actually offering free wifi (for a limited time) along the Northeast Corridor.  So if you’re looking for a relaxing alternative to air travel you can save yourself the $9.99 Gogo InFlight charge and travel the scenic route between Penn and Union.

Free: A Business Model

But if you prefer to travel with the jet setting crowd, you might still be in luck.  As more and more airlines roll out their service across their fleet, some are offering complimentary wifi for a limited time.  Just last month, I flew Airtran from MCO to BWI and enjoyed free surfing (albeit a bit sluggish) both ways.

I believe more businesses (airlines, restaurants, hotels) will soon see the value of offering free wifi in order to attract digital hipsters, mommy bloggers, and business men and women who desperately need a dependable internet connection.  After all, it’s a small price to pay to lure potential new customers.

Here’s looking forward to successfully being able to stream more Hulu on my next trip.  After all if you happen to get stuck flying coach with a guy like Del Griffin, you can always zone him out with a healthy dose of Michael Scott…assuming you remembered your earphones.

For a more complete list of free wi-fi offerings at airports around the U.S., check this Jaunted.com list.

Post Author

Digital Marketer at Disney Parks, music junkie, tech evangelist, quasi-geek, Florida Gators fan who loves to travel. Views expressed here are mine alone and don't reflect those of my boss, Mr. Mouse....