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Southwest to offer $5 WiFi

Southwest Airlines, which announced a deal in September to buy AirTran for $1.4 billion, will offer WiFi on its planes for an introductory rate of $5. Airline executive Dave Ridley made the announcement Thursday on a company blog. That rate will apply for trips of any duration and to both laptops and handheld devices, he said.

Southwest is Washington's largest domestic airline, with more than 10.9 million passengers at BWI and Dulles.

Ridley said that Southwest has WiFi on 32 planes and hopes to almost double that number by the end of the year. The airline plans to eventually offer advance-purchase options. In the interim the company plans to notify customers 24 hours before departure if their flight will be WiFi-enabled. Southwest flies one type of airplane, Boeing 737s.

The airline has estimated that its entire fleet of aircraft would be equipped with WiFi by 2012. No word yet on how AirTran will be affected by this. Regulators must still approve that deal.

AirTran currently uses the Gogo Inflight Internet service, which is based on a different technology than the equipment Southwest is installing in its current fleet. Southwest uses satellite-based access through a California company, Row 44. Gogo uses ground-based cellular towers.

Gogo, used by many airlines, including Delta, American Airlines, Virgin America and United, offers a variety of price points and options, including single-flight, single airline and monthly passes.

By Michael Bolden  | October 28, 2010; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Aviation  
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