Tired of watching in-flight movies and anxious about that big business meeting coming up in New York or the latest European football match results?
Asian travellers who cannot stand being separated from e-mail or the Internet will soon be able to access both from their seats when top regional airlines offer high-speed wireless connectivity on long-haul flights. Over the next six months, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines plan to roll out airborne Internet services by teaming up with Connexion by Boeing, an information services unit of Boeing Co.
China Airlines (華航) and Korean Air are expected to follow suit.
"We expect the services to be popular particularly among businessmen who have long requested such in-flight services," a spokesman for Japan Airlines said in Tokyo.
First implemented by Germany's Lufthansa last month, Connexion by Boeing allows passengers to access the Internet on wireless-ready laptops at speeds comparable to those at home or in the office. Airlines will also have the option to offer wired connections using Ethernet cables.
And yes, it is fully compatible with planes made by Airbus.
The service, made possible by a global network of satellites, ground stations and special antennas fitted to the aircraft, was in fact inaugurated on a Lufthansa Airbus A340-300 flying from Munich to Los Angeles on May 17.
It will cost passengers as little as US$7.95 for 30 minutes. For customers who want to use the service for the entire flight, there is a fixed rate depending on whether the service is short, medium or long-haul.
The maximum price is US$29.95 for flights of more than six hours.
"How much is it worth to get the right information for a contract?" David Friedman, vice president for marketing and direct sales of Connexion by Boeing, said during last week's CommunicAsia 2004 trade fair in Singapore.
"How much is it worth to say good night to your kids?" he asked.
Secure corporate network communications will be available, while individuals can opt to be billed by their telephone or Internet service providers back home if the firms have arrangements with Connexion by Boeing.
The most promising markets in Asia are Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia and Thailand, Friedman said.
"This is not only for the people in first class," he stressed, saying passengers might simply want to pursue personal interests like sports -- not a bad idea in a region where sports betting is a huge industry.
"If I'm in flight for 10 to 12 hours, you're talking about 100 to 150 e-mails," he said, adding that having access to e-mail "reduces E-stress, the stress of e-mail pile-up."
"You can't afford in this high-paced world of business today to be disconnected," he said.
Company spokesmen said Singapore Airlines planned to launch the service in the third quarter this year. All Nippon Airways plans to launch it in the fall, while Japan Airlines will start it in December on flights between Narita and London, eventually offering it on flights to the US.
Korean Air said it would start operating it early next year on its 33 long-haul Boeing 747-400s and 777-200ERs. It will contribute to a "superb in-flight experience," passenger business division chief Y.H. Kim said.
Friedman said revenues from access charges would be split with airlines, which will pay a service charge to have the equipment installed. Business jets and ocean-going vessels can also use Connexion.