Fudge Sunday - Life at 34,000 Feet

by Jay Cuthrell
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Start the week more informedMy travel has picked up in 2019. On a recent flight I discovered the captive portal experiences for the latest generation of in-flight broadband has come a long way. Below are links to help frame the peaks and valleys of connected experiences going back to the 1980s.

The year was 1982…

There’s an AP article from 1982 I was able to dig up when researching what was once known as AirFone. The marketing promise was there but the next few years would see mixed results followed by a steady decline in use.

Human Nets Digests, Volume 5 (1982)

Just search for “AirFone”.


Even CNN captured the promise in their own video coverage of passengers using cordless (wow!) handsets in some of the early demonstrations of the technology.

The hype and promise of 1984 to 2008…

CNN flashback: In-flight calls in 1984

Fascinating look at the cordless telephone… in an airplane one way.


My search led me to coverage of AirFone back in 2006. While the phone handsets in the back of airplane seats was common, the ability to find Wi-Fi just about everywhere else was pushing airlines to think about the future.

Set the Time Machine to 1982: In-Flight, Hotel Broadband (2006)

Memory lane!


Eventually, the allure of a phone conversation from several miles above the Earths surface gave way to market realities. All good things come to an end and using a phone inside a metal tube was not immune to this outcome.

Verizon to End Service on Commercial Airplanes (2006)

The long winding tale of corded telephone handsets in… airplanes.


However, like many other services that shutter, newer and more innovative services will spring forth from the ashes. Meanwhile, consumption of content on increasingly portable mobile devices such as phones and tablets continued to rise.

JetBlue to Buy Verizon Unit In Email Push (2008)

The quest to get more eyeballs engaged more of the time continues.


Connectivity almost anywhere 2011 to Present…

Just 5 years later, a growing number of airlines were adding the first generation of in-flight air-to-ground (ATG) broadband accessible via Wi-Fi. This is where business travels came to love (and not always love) GoGo.

Delta B757-200 with wifi circa December 2011Delta B757-200 with wifi circa December 2011

Looking back on 2011, while the connectivity was passable the adoption curve and contention for a very shared resource led to often degraded performance. Still, it isn’t as if the industry and technology was sitting still. Far from it.

AA Completes 424 High-Speed Wi-Fi Installations in 7 Months as Part of Wi-Fi Revolution

It’s fast y’all.


On my more recent flights, the latest in flight broadband services are sometimes faster than the free Wi-Fi found in coffee shops and the hotel I’m using to tap out this update. So until next time… Thanks again for reading Fudge Sunday.


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