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Coming and Going: Airlines and WiFi; Free Museum Day; National Public Lands Day

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

WiFi Soars?

On land, WiFi is as much a part of life as drinking coffee and breathing. In the air, not so much. But it's catching on.

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Last year, many airlines started rolling out Web access above the clouds, charging passengers about $6 to $13 depending on flight length. Only two carriers -- AirTran and Virgin America -- have so far added it to their entire fleets; the others offer it only on select aircraft. Virgin America also has outlets at every seat. Point goes to VA.

A recent study by Wakefield Research for the Wi-Fi Alliance hints at the rising popularity of this service: Of 480 frequent business travelers, 150 logged on last month. In addition, 75 percent said they would choose an airline based on WiFi capability, and half said they would consider altering a reservation by a day to board a flight with WiFi. Another fun, but not surprising, fact: More than 70 percent said they would rather have WiFi than an airline meal. Desiccated meat with brown sauce or YouTube? Easy choice.

On another flight path, Virgin America came out with figures concerning use of its service, which was unveiled fleet-wide in May. The carrier found that, on average, 12 to 15 percent of its travelers were purchasing the amenity on all its routes and that 20 to 25 percent were using it on some transcontinental trips.

"The rates are growing more than we projected," said Abby Lunardini, a Virgin America spokeswoman. "This is considered pretty high."

To be honest, CoGo did not find 20 percent to be such an impressive figure, especially when we flipped it over: 80 percent of travelers are not using the service. At first glance, air travel expert Terry Trippler also deemed the percentage to be low but then admitted by e-mail that "on second thought, it is probably good." He expects the number to approach 50 percent as more people become comfortable with in-flight WiFi. However, he warns that the closeness of the seats could scare off some customers. The lack of space makes it difficult to set up a computer station on your tray table and turns personal online viewing into a public affair.

DEPT. OF CULTURE

Free Museums

Saturday, Sept. 26, is the Smithsonian magazine-sponsored Museum Day, when museums around the country waive their admission fees. To see a list of participating institutions, visit http://microsite.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/index.html. While some of the museums are always free, others on the list normally have hefty admission fees, making Sept. 26 a great day to check out, for instance, Washington's National Museum of Crime and Punishment (adults $17-$20), New York's "Bodies" exhibit ($22.50-$27.50) and the Exploratorium in San Francisco ($14). There are hundreds of other museums from coast to coast. Download and print out an admission card (good for two people) from the Museum Day Web site (and make sure to uncheck the boxes at the bottom if you don't want to be added to any mailing lists). If you want to hit more than one museum, bring extra printouts to hand over at the door. For more information, send questions to museumday@si.edu.

TRAVEL TICKER

On Sept. 26, celebrate National Public Lands Day by giving a hand to the land. Founded in 1994, the country's largest interactive volunteer project organizes countless events across the nation, free and open to all. (Last year, 120,000 elves helped out at more than 1,800 locations in every state.) A sampling of outings includes habitat restoration, vegetation management and grounds maintenance at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco; sprucing up the shores of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge/Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City; and building new hiking trails at Shelf Road Recreation Area in Colorado (as a thank-you, volunteers receive a free camp site for that evening.) For a list of volunteer opportunities: http://www.publiclandsday.org/involved/index.htm#map.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs, Christina Talcott

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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