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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

With Gadget Use Approved, Not All Airline Wi-Fi Is Equal


The FAA’s new guidelines will allow airlines to lift restrictions on the use of electronic gadgets during all phases of a flight, some by the end of the year. But only a handful of U.S. airlines will be able to offer Wi-Fi during taxiIng, takeoffs and landings — at least for the near future.

The shift sets up some winners and losers among airlines when it comes to in-flight Wi-Fi, an increasingly important part of carriers’ marketing.

Gogo, which provides inflight Wi-Fi to roughly three-quarters of the approximately 2,100 connected commercial aircraft in the U.S., said its system is not designed to function below 10,000 feet, largely because it connects via cell towers on the ground. That means its airline clients, including Delta Air LinesDAL -0.38%, American Airlines, US AirwaysLCC -2.70%, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, will still be unable to offer Internet to their passengers during takeoffs and landings.

But Southwest AirlinesLUV +0.53%, United Airlines and JetBlue AirwaysJBLU -1.66% should be able to offer Wi-Fi from gate to gate if they wish. Their Wi-Fi providers, which connect to the Internet via satellites, said their systems generally function at all altitudes.

Global Eagle EntertainmentENT +3.25%, the Wi-Fi provider to Southwest, said it could flip a switch to make Wi-Fi available to passengers from gate to gate. Panasonic Avionics, which provides Wi-Fi to about 100 United planes and nine American Airlines aircraft, said it could upgrade its systems’ software and they’d be ready to connect at all levels of flight.

“It means greater utility for the passenger,” said John Guidon, chief technology officer of Global Eagle. “If they’re sitting in a line of planes waiting to take off, they can watch TV or browse the Internet.”

Before the guidelines were released on Thursday, United said it was interested in offering Wi-Fi at all phases of flight.

JetBlue said said it was still investigating whether it wanted to turn on connectivity from gate to gate, in part because of fears that it would encourage fliers to use their laptops during takeoffs and landings, when those devices should be stowed.

Southwest said it will work quickly to allow its fliers to use devices gate to gate but it did not comment specifically on the future of its Wi-Fi policy.

Under the new rules, passengers will be able to use handheld devices such as smartphones, tablets and e-readers from gate to gate. Larger items like laptops will have to be stowed during takeoffs and landings. Wi-Fi is allowed but cellular connections are not.

Airlines are mixed on whether the increased window to use electronics will affect their revenues from selling connectivity and content to those devices.

They generally agree that on flights that are two hours or shorter, allowing fliers to use their devices for an extra 20 minutes may make some passengers more inclined to pay for an in-flight movie. Indeed, Gogo said it plans to make its content – movies and TV shows saved on an onboard server – available on fliers’ devices from gate to gate on airlines that wish to offer it.

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