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Coming and Going: In-flight WiFi; Holiday Woes

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

TECH REPORT

WiFi Is in the Air

In an act never attempted before, CoGo is typing these words via the Web while coasting 27,000 feet above ground. For a limited time, Aircell's Gogo, an in-flight Internet service, was offering AirTran passengers a free trial. CoGo -- new to high-altitude Internet -- eagerly grabbed the promotional code.

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Gogo recently celebrated its first anniversary, and over those 12-odd months, a slew of carriers, including Virgin America, American Airlines and Delta, have added the techy amenity. But according to the employee handing out the get-one-free cards at BWI Marshall, passengers have been slow to sign up for the service, which costs $5.95 to $12.95, depending on the length of the flight. CoGo wanted to understand why.

You can't blame the service, which was easy to sign up for and even easier to start up. The Gogo home page, which included content from Frommer's guidebooks and AirTran flight info, popped up immediately. We checked our flight stats (delayed, new ETA), then e-mailed our pickup about the change in times. We then switched to Google so we could "run" some errands. In short order, we renewed our car registration, browsed for a baby gift and instant-messaged earthlings toiling away at work.

Gogo was as quick and smooth as our own arrangement thousands of feet below. There were no lost connections or frozen moments, and we could pull up multiple pages at once. The only downsides were the lack of privacy due to the compacted seats and the large pile of reading material that needed some attention.

So would CoGo use Gogo or another in-flight Web service again? Yes, if the flight was more than an hour long (due to takeoff and landing rules, our online time was brief during the 55-minute flight) and/or CoGo was behind in its online shopping, banking, bill-paying, IM-ing. And definitely if it were free. But if there was no real need to go online, CoGo would prefer to tackle that mound of unread magazines and newspapers and just wait for solid ground to surf the Web.

Gogo offers an array of promotions on various airlines throughout the year. For example, first-time users flying on Delta, AirTran or American Airlines receive one free session; promotion runs through September 2010. Also, look for Gogo representatives who might be doling out freebie cards at airport gates. Info: 877-350-0038, http://www.gogoinflight.com.

GRAB A SEAT

Holiday Travel Woes

As if holiday travel could get any worse, FareCompare.com's chief executive, Rick Seaney, recently uncovered two new snags.

The first is a $10 "holiday surcharge" tacked on to fares for travel the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 29) and the two days after New Year's (Jan. 2 and 3). While airfare pricing can seem erratic, and $10 won't have much of an effect on the average traveler, seat cutbacks might.

On his blog, RickSeaney.com, Seaney compared the number of seats available on flights from airports in Canada and the United States on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2008 and 2009. He found that seats were slashed dramatically in most cities. (See the list here: http://www.farecompare.com/articles/holiday-travel-flight-cutbacks-for-thanksgiving-2009)

The biggest losers -- with seat-cut percentages in the double digits -- were Cincinnati (down 23.3 percent), Hartford, Conn. (14.6 percent), Tampa (11.9 percent) and St. Louis (11.1 percent). Washington lost 3.5 percent of seats, while Baltimore lost a mere 0.1 percent. The cities with the biggest gains were Milwaukee (28.9 percent), San Juan, Puerto Rico (10.3 percent) and Anchorage (5.5 percent).

The bottom line? Seats are limited, so if you don't have flexibility and need to fly around the holidays, book now.

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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