An hour with Virgin’s in-flight WiFi

I’ve just flown from LA to San Francisco on one of Virgin’s WiFi-equipped planes. It was for Google’s “Day in the Cloud” event, which we’ll have more of at Boing Boing Video presently: passengers on our flight competed with those on the concurrent SF to LA flight in a Pub Quiz game of such difficulty that one is obliged — haha! — to use Google calendar, search, maps and so on to find the answers.

We defeated the fools on the other airplane. Or, rather, the best player on ours scored marginally higher than the best player on theirs. My personal score is irrelevant.

Virgin let us on free of charge. Unnecesary travel in coach, bookended by the leering of latex-gloved TSA personnel, has doubtless corrupted my judgment. That said, the following conclusions can be made concerning Virgin’s high-tech cabins.

– Having the web in-flight is an escape, and a connection to reality. Zoning out on the web is a spiritual refuge from the boredom of air travel, just as it is from the boredom of work.

– Before you get online, you have to get pass a third-party authentication proxy thing. Once past it, all is well, but it is the sort of thing that IT people call “a single point of failure.”

– Virgin passenger cabins’ lighting and fixture design is modeled on the interior of a Cylon basestar. This is a superior atmospheric to Southwest’s fixed-grin comedy routines, but you have to like neon pink.

– You can play Doom and chat with other passengers on the back-of-chair display, but the keyboard on the handset is extremely hard to type on.

– Google apps run just as well in a plane as they do anywhere else: there’s nothing to say about it beyond acknowledging that they work. It’ll be a boon to those who already organize work around them.

– A cartoon Sir Richard Branson welcomes one to one’s flight. He couldn’t be with us today as he is jet-skiiing to Mars.

Update: From the organizers on the login woes: “the WiFi delays you might have experienced were related to on the ground issues with the web login for Gogo on the Aircell server in Illinois. Right now Aircell is working on the issue and the delays were not related to bandwidth constraints on the airplane (we have had up to 65 guests logged on at a time, and we did not have near this number on flights today). These delays were not Virgin America-specific – they occurred across Gogo’s in-flight network.”

As commenter TechDeviant notes below, it’s $10 — would it be better if Virgin simply billed it into the fare for everyone, added web access to the built-in chair units, and had an open WiFi network for those with laptops? Gogo’s broken and pointless turnpike system was a real pain.

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at besc...@gmail.com

 

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16 Responses to An hour with Virgin’s in-flight WiFi

  1. p g says:

    SFO- NYC was $12 fee for the entire flight in early June. I remember there being a sliding scale based on length of flight, like $6 for an hour, $10 for 3-4 hours and $12 for all day, as well as a membership plan for frequent fliers. Did not try the service, but liked the idea of it being available.

  2. techdeviant says:

    I was more expecting to see a sliding scale of prices based on the length of your trip. Or even the ability to purchase small chunks of time, like maybe 15 or 30 minutes.

    Honestly the wifi is just a small reason to fly Virgin anyway. I like them because they are not only cheap but extremely nice and the staff have always been nothing but awesome.

  3. techdeviant says:

    oh and @xeni I see your point about needing the internet for something like a meeting right after you get off the flight. I guess I imagine that most business people fly first class and get the internet for free?

  4. techdeviant says:

    I was super excited to try the wifi on my recent flight from Seattle to SF. Except when I got on the plane and hit the proxy, it told me I had to pay $10. For just 1 hour of internets? No thank you.

  5. Glenn Fleishman says:

    “you have to get pass a third-party authentication proxy thing”

    Sorta first-party, actually, innit? Aircell runs the Gogo service, and the authentication stuff is on their server–or so I am led to believe.

    I’m looking forward to when they have integrated login for regular fliers.

    Per @1: What, you think airlines can offer anything for free right now? I mean, back in the lush late 90s, mebbe.

  6. Xeni Jardin says:

    @techdeviant Well, I can see how $10/hour might seem like a no-go, but

    1) Even on a short flight — If I REALLY need to be online then? Maybe Im’ heading to a meeting I’m not prepared for, or I have to reach someone by email/IM/whatever urgently, or I need to blog something absolutely positively that moment? I’d pay that.

    2) It’s more for longer-haul flights, I think. When I was recently on a NYC/LAX flight, I was looking at some 5-6 hours in the air. For that? Hell yeah it’s worth it! To me anyway.

  7. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Glenn, the “point of entry,” which can be a point of failure if a server farts or something, is Aircell. There was bottlenecking in that part of the process on the promo flight this AM, because (I’m told) an Aircell server in Illinois — well, it farted. Affected all GoGo-enabled flights on all participating airlines. But as Rob said, after that step, the service is solid, faster than I expected for service on a plane, and felt very much worth the $10 one would normally pay for a day-rate. Also, you can buy a month-long pass for like $40, if you fly Virgin America a lot.

  8. DSMVWL THS says:

    Zoning out on the web is a spiritual refuge from the boredom of air travel

    Generally, I find air travel to be a spiritual refuge from zoning out on the web. It’s one of the few times I can’t be online… and I need that in my life occasionally.

  9. Xakh says:

    Just wondering, by third party application, do you mean an actual program? If so, is it Linux compatible?

  10. Cnoocy says:

    Is that the plane that had a passenger who was just trying to get to a connecting flight? Do you know if anything was done for her? It seems sort of unfair (by which I mean horrible) to spring this kind of event on a random traveler.

  11. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Xakh just a login screen in a web browser.

    @CNOOCY, I was on the flight where one of the passengers had an issue with a connecting flight, and was upset about all the activity.

    As I understand it, the flight was marked as being a special flight which was going to take longer than a normal flight, someone on board said this was disclosed to all fare passengers at the time of ticket purchase.

    I saw the passenger approach Virgin America staff very upset, yelling and frantic — the Virgin folks were *super* chill. They were responsive, kind, and accommodating. They comped her flight, she got her on to her connecting flight without problems as I hear. And they gave her a netbook.

  12. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Xakh just a login screen in a web browser.

    @CNOOCY, I was on the flight where one of the passengers had an issue with a connecting flight, and was upset about all the activity.

    As I understand it, the flight was marked as being a special flight which was going to take longer than a normal flight, someone on board said this was disclosed to all fare passengers at the time of ticket purchase.

    I saw the passenger approach Virgin America staff very upset, yelling and frantic — the Virgin folks were *super* chill. They were responsive, kind, and accommodating. They comped her flight, she got her on to her connecting flight without problems as I hear. And they gave her a netbook.

  13. Cnoocy says:

    @Xeni, thanks for the update. That’s good to hear.

  14. dculberson says:

    “And they gave her a netbook.”

    How can I get this sort of inconvenience?

    The last time Northwest screwed up, I got a $25 off coupon for a hotel – when I wanted to be staying at home that night. After hours of struggle and waiting and being given the runaround.

    Compared to that, give me all the netbooks and slightly-longer-than-normal flights you can!

  15. Xeni Jardin says:

    @dculberson, they do customer service very well at virgin. I have had similar horror story experiences on other airlines. I swear i’m not a paid spokesperson, but they really are better.

  16. febryle says:

    Loved, loved, loved the Virgin in-flight WiFi on my recent LAX-BOS 6 hour flight. It was fast, and the $10 was more than worth it. I listened to Pandora the whole flight. Most impressively, SkypeOut worked, although I didn’t use it except to check voicemail. Kudos to Virgin.

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