Passengers hang up on wi-fi in the sky if there's a price to pay
Wi-fi on planes is what we all want in the future, more so than jet packs. Probably. Browsing the internet during flights would certainly help pass the time on those airlines with mediocre entertainment systems - the one-film-or-nothing operators - and mean business suits could continue to act like cockends at 36,000 ft. There's only one problem threatening this halcyon view of the future; nobody wants to pay for it.
The Internet has conditioned us to expect services for free and let the providers worry about how they generate the revenue to pay for it. So while more than 500 airliners in the US now offer onboard wi-fi, passengers are far less likely to bother if it costs anything. It all sounds like common sense - people won't pay for something if they don't have to - but in this instance there's no free option; it's not like you can steal wi-fi for free from another source when you're six miles up. If people won't pay even a minimal amount, it threatens the viability of providing internet access as a whole.
Many US airlines are using the likes of Gogo to provide the service, which charges up to $13 (£8) on a longhaul flight. Although that sounds high, even when Alaska Airlines offered web access for $1 (62 pence), people still turned their nose up at it and usage dropped massively. Some airlines in US have decided to ignore in-flight wi-fi altogether; Continental Airlines are installing satellite television rather than bothering with wi-fi, because they believe their passengers would prefer live television to internet access. There's also the problem of power - most laptops won't last the duration of a longhaul flight and many airlines don't provide power sockets in individual seats, so many passengers won't pay a premium for only three or four hours of use.
Like trains, cafes and coaches, wi-fi can potentially be a deal-breaker for some consumers when choosing where they go and who they spend their money with. Free wi-fi could become a service that improves passenger loyalty and repeat business, if airlines don't insist it becomes a paid service that turns customers off. Whether or not you've enough legroom to open your laptop is a different matter altogether.