World's largest airline rolls out fleet-wide wifi

American carrier Southwest, the world's largest airline, has announced that it will begin rolling out onboard wifi across its entire fleet this year.

By 2012, all of Southwest's 540 aircraft will offer high-speed internet, the company announced on January 29. Beginning from the first quarter of 2010, ten planes a month will be fitted with the technology, rising to 25 planes per month as the process is accelerated. Pricing for the service has not yet been unveiled, but Southwest states that it will be "great value".

US carriers have been quick to embrace the potential of offering in-flight wifi to passengers. AirTran and Virgin America have both fully equipped their flights with Gogo inflight wireless access. Larger carriers such as American Airlines, Delta and Continental are also known to be trialing systems on board multiple aircraft. However, Southwest is the largest carrier so far to commit to outfitting its entire fleet with the technology. Average charges for in-flight wifi are around $4.95 (€3.55) for 90 minutes.

Outside of the US, where the technological infrastructure for ground-based communications exists, trials are more patchy and expensive, however. British Airways introduced connectivity on board its all-business-class service between London and New York last September. Meanwhile, Dublin-based Ryanair announced last February that it would outfit its entire 170-strong fleet with connectivity for mobile phones. Qantas, Air France, KLM and Emirates all offer inflight wifi on some services.

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