Gaga for Gogo®

I have regarded my frequent business flights an opportunity to disconnect from our wired world, even if only for a few hours.

I have often enjoyed those brief periods of being disconnected from the matrix, using the time to catch up on my reading, delve into a topic I didn’t have the patience to stick with on the ground where other priorities competed for my attention, or simply to relax.

But those days may be over.

On my recent round trip between SEA and DCA, both Alaska Airlines 737-800s I flew were equipped with Gogo® Inflight Internet connectivity. Yikes.

Once your aircraft has climbed above 10,000 feet, you too can connect, check your e-mail, update your Facebook account, check your stocks, surf the web. In short, you can now do pretty much everything you do at home or at the office in the air.

For a fee, of course. A fee that varies depending on the length of the flight - the longer the flight, the higher the price. While the card in the seat back said prices started at $4.95, our flight’s fee was $12.95, and that didn’t change as the flight wore on. Still, 13 bucks for about five hours of internet access is less than $3 an hour; not a bad deal! And promo codes are available on-line, so if you’re planning a flight, some advance research could prove profitable.

If you absolutely need to work or be that in touch, I suppose connectivity is a good thing. This time, though, the excuse that my employer won’t reimburse me kept me from shelling out of my own pocket to log on during my recent coast-to-coast flights.

But I was pleased to discover Gogo® offers some free features that can help the time go by.

Open the wireless connection and your browser on Alaska, and you’ll be able to see your flight and flight number, arrival time, time remaining until arrival, and destination weather right on Gogo®’s home screen. A subsequent flight on a U.S. Airways Gogo-equipped A321 revealed that different airlines have different features.

Go to the second tab on Alaska's Gogo® page and you’ll find my favorite feature: FlightTracker. I've used it frequently on the ground to track the progress of friends and family while they were traveling but, until today, I'd only seen similar features in-flight on international hauls. It provides the time, speed, and distance information above plus altitude, speed, and a map showing where you are at the moment, answering the perennial question, “Are we there yet?” (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

If you’re inclined to do some in-flight shopping, you’re no longer limited to SkyMall or the duty-free catalog. The third Gogo® tab gives you the option of shopping via Gilt Groupe or buying from Zappos, making restaurant reservations via OpenTable™, checking current events via eventful, or buying tickets on Stub Hub!. All free.

A fourth tab gives destination details while a fifth provides access to News & Entertainment.

Independent reviews point out that download speeds will vary depending on how many of your fellow passengers log on but, based on the performance of the free pages, it seemed adequate for most applications. I was able to easily access features from People magazine but the Wall Street Journal pages never did load completely.

When I started writing this blog entry at 34,000 feet (which I know thanks to Gogo®), I intended to bemoan the loss of … something. Exactly what? I’m not sure because, despite my tongue-in-cheek reference, we’re not yet hard-wired into The Matrix.

As I poked around the site, I decided I actually like Gogo®’s service – at least the free stuff. I haven’t logged on yet, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need or want it.

I’m not sure what I feared I might be losing.

Privacy? The chance to be “off duty” for a few hours? Not unless I surrender either one of those things willingly.

Peace and quiet? Nope; not that either. If the guy next to me or the lady across the aisle is logged on and I’m not, it’s no skin off my nose.

Now if they ever allow us to use our cell phones in flight, it’ll be a different story.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
Click on photo to view larger image