Airborne blogging: Kudos to Virgin America for civilizing flight

09Jul09

I’m writing this in real time on Virgin flight 901, while traveling from LAS-SFO for the Real Time Stream CrunchUp & August Capital Party.

How civilized.

Now, compare that with the silly lie the airlines have been spouting forever, i.e., that no electronic stuff can be on during flight.  I’m not an engineer; nor have I played one on TV.  However, in the course of many years of business travel, I’ve had more than one occasion to be seated next to engineers of various stripes, including, once, an avionics designer.

Whenever the Sky Nazis deliver the “off position” speech, many passengers comment about its absurdity in the face of overwhelming personal experience that electronics are, literally, everywhere in modern life without triggering disaster (and that planes manage to fly through lightning without frying their avionics).

In each such ensuing discussion, every technical expert has told me that there is no technical reason for the “off” requirement.  As one engineer pointed out, in flight the plane is already immersed in and bombarded by radio waves of every description.  The only difference between our devices being in the “on” vs. “off” position is whether or not we’re receiving or contributing to those waves.

Call me cynical, but I can’t help but suspect that the electronic prohibition related less to technical concerns and more to economic ones, i.e., the airlines weren’t making money off it.  Years ago, when AirPhone made its appearance, all of a sudden you could make calls from a plane — for a usurious fee per minute.  Let’s see, my phone will wreck the plane; theirs is benign.  For years they’ve intimated that if you turn on your phone or Blackberry you’ll risk the plane crashing in a fiery ball.  Now, for $9.95, miraculously you no longer endanger anyone.

I don’t begrudge Virgin the $9.95.  In fact, I paid it happily for the welcome luxury of being able to catch up on email and online reading while en route.

Besides WiFi, the seatback touchscreen also offers music, TV, movies, games, seat-to-seat-chat and, in future, external chat.

This, my friends, is the way to fly.  It’s the domestic version of our incredible experience last Summer when we used up a ton of AmEx points on 1st class tix to London via Virgin Atlantic.  It was an incredibly cosseting experience.

Today’s flight tells me that, just as Microsoft views the automobile as the next major computing-delivery platform, creative airlines can view their seats as a way to sell value-added services that we can opt into — or not.

With that, I’m back to my RSS Reader.  See you at the CrunchUp in S.F.

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