American Airlines finally installs WiFi

I am writing this column high above the United States from the exit row of an American Airlines MD-80, which brings two things to mind.

I am writing this column high above the United States from the exit row of an American Airlines MD-80, which brings two things to mind.

One, I should say “hello” to my seatmate, who undoubtedly is reading everything on my screen, and “thanks” to American Airlines for finally installing WiFi on board selected flights, including mine.

The service, with the unfortunate name of “Gogo InFlight Internet,” is currently available on selected flights and on selected 767-200 and MD-80s.

It’s also pretty pricey unless you have some serious work to do or unless you fly a lot; on this flight I paid $9.95 for three hours of Internet access, which ended up being about two hours and 20 minutes because they end the service early for landing.

Shorter flights are $4.95; longer ones are $12.95. The best deal is the monthly price of $34.95 for unlimited use, assuming you are a road warrior. (Head to gogoinflight.com for full pricing and details)

It was plenty fast, at least as fast as a DSL connection in my testing, and often faster. I had no issue running business tasks and downloading some larger spreadsheets.

There is really nothing to the connection either; you just launch the Internet page while in flight and pay with a debit card or credit card while in flight.

Then you will be able to use your computer for as long as your battery lasts, which brings up the Achilles heel of this whole mess. Lots of people, especially consumers, have laptops with lousy batteries.

Even some business laptops have less than optimal batteries. So even if you pay for three or five hours of Internet, will you get it? (One possible option with some laptops is a second internal battery, which is common on some Dell Latitude models.)

So you may think you can plug in your laptop and except in very rare cases, you can’t do that with your typical plug. Most airlines removed normal AC jacks (if they ever had them) after morons started plugging in all kinds of things. So you have to have a 12V adapter for your laptop (what used to be called a cigarette lighter adapter back when people smoked). So if you find one of those, your next hurdle is booking a seat with a power jack.

That involves going to the Internet and getting the power jack layout for your airline and your particular plane and seeing which seats have jacks. Then calling up the available seat layout and trying to play matchee-matchee and trying to find one with power.

Then once you get to the airport, you need to go to the gate (you did print out the layout, right?) and make sure you have the same plane and the airline didn’t switch equipment at the last minute. If so, work with the gate personnel for a seat change.

As for Gogo Internet, if you plan to use the service, sign up for its e-mail promotion list for coupons and discounts, which can reduce the price on upcoming trips. Discounts also can be found on the Internet, prior to flight.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com

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