December 20, 2007 / 9:08 PM / 10 years ago

Airlines race to provide in-flight Internet access

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. airlines, racing to bring the Internet to domestic skies, hope that it will generate not only buzz but revenues.

”If they can charge for it they will. They’re looking at every revenue source they can,“ Terry Trippler, travel expert at industry website TripplerTravel.com, said on Thursday. ”

AMR Corp’s American Airlines says it will be the first major U.S. carrier to feature it in-flight Internet access.

The No. 1 U.S. carrier said it will test AirCell’s broadband Internet service next year on 15 planes that usually fly transcontinental routes. AirCell Chief Executive Jack Blumenstein said the company can offer Internet access for about $10 per user.

“This is rapidly going to proliferate across all commercial aviation,” he said.

The airline industry, battered by low-fare competition and soaring costs, has derived some stability from a strategy that unbundles products and services that once were included in the price of a ticket.

Major carriers have introduced new food, products and entertainment for sale on planes. They are making a greater effort to lure business travelers with plush accommodations such as fully-reclining seats.

JetBlue Airways said it has partnered with Yahoo Inc and Research In Motion earlier this month to offer free, in-flight, wi-fi web connections for laptop computers and advanced cell phones.

Southwest Airlines Co, which hopes to attract more business fliers, said it is working on offering Internet on-board its planes.

UAL Corp’s United Airlines and Continental Airlines said they are on the lookout for Internet technology that suits their businesses.

But it is not as easy as it looks.

Boeing Co last year was forced to abandoned its Internet foray dubbed Connexion because it failed to attract enough customers.

Trippler said the interest in Internet access is part of a plan for airlines to collect fees anywhere they can and to offer services that spur customer loyalty.

The first airline to feature reliable Internet service on board will have a leg up on the competition, Trippler said.

“Whoever has the best toys wins,” he said. “Just keep those damn cell phones off the plane.”

Editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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