CES: Staying Online While in the Air Is Addictive

I'm not a frequent traveler, but I've been doing business trips long enough to be used to the three most frustrating rules for the technically enthusiastic flyer: No phone calls (unless you want to use the plane's over-priced service). No decent entertainment. And no Internet.

While the first is still pretty much in force, the second rule was broken some time ago, thanks both to the back-of-the-seat inflight entertainment supplied by an increasing number of airlines and to our current ability to run videos on computers and smartphones. And now the third rule is starting to shatter as well, as Internet connections become available on plane flights.

After reading my colleague Matt Hamblen's account of videoconferencing at 30k, I couldn't wait to try it myself. I'm having my first experience of that right now, on a Virgin America flight from NYC to Las Vegas to attend (of course) CES. While the airline has been offering Internet service for a little over a year now, several signs (one prominently by the back-of-the-plane bathrooms) announce that free WiFi available until January 15th. This particular freebee has been sponsored by Google, which has apparently taken some time off from creating a media avalanche about its Nexus One smartphone to make its name prominent among bored travelers.

I have to admit, it's really nice to check my e-mail and browse the Web while I'm about 36,000 feet above Iowa. It could get to be a habit. I am curious, though, whether I'm so much of an Internet junkie that I'll pay the $13 (for flights over three hours) that the airlines usually charge, especially considering the constant nickle-and-diming that is now business as usual on today's flights ($3 for potato chips?).

It also takes away any excuse I have to spend the several hours watching bad TV (incidentally, when the flight entertainment system crashed just before we took off, there was a Linux penguin sitting in the corner of the screen during the reboot) or reading a novel rather than actually doing work. Like uploading this blog entry....

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2010.

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