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Paul Kiser

Southwest Airlines (SWA) has been talking about in-flight WiFi service for over four years, but today most Southwest passengers will find that going online is still something that happens on the ground, not in the air. Even if a Southwest plane has the ‘WiFi hump’ and is labeled as a WiFi HotSpot, it doesn’t mean the service will be turned on during the flight.

Southwest’s goal of in-flight Internet service has had its challenges in getting airborne. A brief history of their communications on the topic:

53 months agoª – In an interview about restructuring fuel contracts, SWA CEO Gary Kelly mentions that his airline is considering adding WiFi service. Kelly is quoted as saying,

“We are very seriously exploring that. We’d be acutely interested in the cost of doing that. It would be a very exciting development if we could make that work.”¹

A Southwest Plane with the WiFi 'hump' satellite antenna located on the top of the plane in front of the tail

44 months ago – Southwest announces it will be testing passenger WiFi service on four planes in the summer using Row 44 as it’s Internet service provider.²

25 months ago – Southwest announces that testing is completed and that they will start equipping planes with WiFi in the Spring of 2010.³

20 months ago – Senior Vice President of Marketing and Revenue Management Dave Ridley states in SWA’s blog, Nuts About Southwest, admits, … the road to onboard wi-fi has been a long one…,”¹¹ but said that starting the 2nd quarter of 2010, SWA will start installing WiFi on 15 planes a month and increasing it to 25 planes a month. He added:

“…we estimate that our full fleet of more than 540 planes will be outfitted with wi-fi service by early 2012.”

11 months ago – SVP Ridley announces in the Nuts About Southwest blog that only 32 planes have WiFi installed and he adds:

“…we are adding to that number weekly.”¹²

2 months ago – In a call to investors CEO Kelly reveals a timetable revision for in-flight WiFi:

“…Kelly said he feels “very comfortable” with the “2013 timeframe” for fleetwide Wi-Fi installation…”¹³

Last week, after two separate incidents of the WiFi service being turned off on WiFi designated Southwest planes, uniformed Southwest employees had different explanations of the status of the company’s on board Internet service. One claimed that the system ‘worked yesterday’ and another said confidentially that their were problems with the Internet service provider and that the Southwest was no longer using them.

Howard Lefkowitz, Chief Commercial Officer

Not so, says Chief Commercial Officer Howard Lefkowitz of Row 44. Lefkowitz, the former CEO of Vegas.com who joined Row 44 about a year ago, said in a telephone interview that Row 44 is still Southwest’s Internet and entertainment provider and that they are continuing to equip the planes. He said that “…over 100…” planes now have WiFi Internet service and thousands of people are using it everyday. Lefkowitz said he would check into why two of the WiFi equipped flights were not in service last week.

Southwest Airlines was contacted by phone and email, but did not respond to requests for information.

This article first published as
Southwest Air WiFi: Real or Myth?
on Technorati.com


ªGary Kelly’s original remarks were recorded in the Dallas Morning News; however, that link is broken. The link appears in an April 19, 2007, blog in WNN WiFi Net News. The remarks are from another blog referenced below on the same date.

¹Author Unknown. The Wireless Weblog (2007.) Southwest Airlines Wants WiFi. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://www.wireless-weblog.com/50226711/southwest_airlines_wants_wifi.php.

²W. Safer. Switched.  (2008.) Southwest Airlines Adding In-Flight WiFi Internet Access This Summer.  Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://www.switched.com/2008/01/24/southwest-airlines-adds-in-flight-wireless-internet-access-this/

³B. Parr.  Mashable. (2009.) Southwest Airline: Wi-Fi On Every Flight by Early 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://mashable.com/2009/08/23/southwest-wifi/. ¹¹D. Ridley. Nuts About Southwest. (2010.) It Is Official–Wi-Fi Is On The Way! Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blog/it-is-official-wi-fi-is-on-the-way

¹²D. Ridley. Nuts About Southwest. (2010.) Southwest Airlines Media Day 2010: WiFi Details (Including Price) Revealed. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blog/southwest-airlines-media-day-2010-wifi-details-including-price-revealed.

¹³Dennis Schaal. tnooz. (2010.) Southwest Airlines: Fleetwide Wi-Fi Won’t Come Until 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2011 from http://www.tnooz.com/2010/07/29/mobile/southwest-airlines-fleetwide-wi-fi-wont-come-until-2013/.