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.
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