As airlines look for ways to appeal to business travelers without giving away the proverbial store, they're turning to pay-as-you-go options like in-flight e-mail and information services. In addition to those pricey voice calls from airplane seat-backs (which run in the $4-per-minute range), Verizon Airfone now offers JetConnect, a new way to stay in touch with what's happening on the ground. Here's how it works:
- Once on board, just plug your laptop modem cord in to the phone jack on the side of the seat-back Airfone receiver.
- Swipe your credit card, and log on as you would at your office or hotel. (Thankfully, no downloads, plug-ins or setting changes are required.) A JetConnect home page should appear on your Web browser.
- Choose from two options: JetConnect only ($5.99) offers IM and text messaging, news, stocks, sports and weather updates, and games. JetConnect with e-mail costs $15.98, plus additional charges for large downloads. These one-time fees are good for the duration of the flight-no additional per-minute fees to worry about.
JetConnect has limitations: Inbound and outbound e-mails and news page updates are cached on the onboard server, which communicates with the ground only every 10 to 15 minutes, so messaging and e-mail functions are not instantaneous. JetConnect users also cannot surf the Web; they can only access pages stored on the onboard server. JetConnect will soon be on the domestic fleets of Continental and United airlines-more than 700 aircraft. Other major airlines are expected to follow. (Visit www.verizon.com/airfone/jetconnect for details.) In the meantime, you can use a seat-back Airfone to connect to the Internet, but expect a slow connection prone to failure.
Christopher McGinnis, travel correspondent for CNN Headline News, is author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.