Recently I flew to the east coast via JetBlue. Although I took the red-eye, it was still a pleasant experience. Time flew by (no pun intended) as I spent half the flight watching the WSOP and then proceeded to nap for a bit while listening to XM radio via my noise-cancelling headphones. On my return flight, I took a US Airways flight that I found for about 20% cheaper than other alternatives. Worst decision ever. The plane was old, the seats narrow and worn, legroom sucked, no in flight entertainment…horrible. I just couldn’t believe how much more pleasant a flying experience JetBlue offered. I thought to myself: “Man, if JetBlue offered internet, I think I really would pay even 50% more to fly JetBlue”.
Fast forward to today and I see a headline saying that JetBlue is testing Wi-Fi internet. I was super excited..until I read the article. It turns out that JetBlue is in fact testing out the feature however it is super, super crippled. It’s the equivalent of having an early 1990′s AOL client as your gateway to the internet. Because, it seems, RIMM and Yahoo! are sponsoring the feature, passenger internet use is limited to Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, and BlackBerry messaging. How incredibly dumb. Moreover, according to the article, while JetBlue has plans to expand this service to their entire fleet, they don’t have plans to expand the capabilities of the service.
Meanwhile, Virgin America has equipped their entire fleet with Wi-Fi and are planning to add Internet service within a year. If I recall correctly, they will be charging passengers a very nominal fee for access and possibly a slightly higher fee for additional bandwidth. Sounds perfect to me.
As the rest of the domestic airline industry seems to be supremely focused on profitability over service, JetBlue and Virgin American clearly are bucking the trend. It’s not a stretch to say that they are reminding their customers that flying can be a joyful experience – as it was decades ago. I’ve talked to several friends and we all agree that we’re willing to spend more for a better experience. Internet is the true killer app for in flight entertainment. I hope JetBlue realizes this and rethinks their internet strategy. Otherwise they’ll be eating Virgin’s dust.