Using a laptop at 33,000 feet seems like a cool idea.  Being able to connect to the Internet seems even cooler. But a story in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal by Scott McCarthy proves that when people are asked to pay, well, it’s not nearly as important.  On board internet is becoming ubiquitous but without plugs at each seat, it’s an amenity that most travelers are not willing to pay for. Only Virgin America so far has figured out that to sell internet you have to give away electricity in the seats.

Airlines have embraced this new possible revenue source–selling a chance to go on line for as much as $12.95 per flight. But when Alaska Airlines tested prices as low as $1 per flight, they said that usage varies greatly, even at just a buck. Maybe it’s human nature that says it’s worth doing it if it’s free but if you have to pay…well maybe not.

What airline passengers really want more is real-time TV. If you’ve ever flown Jet Blue and surfed the channels on the seatbacks, you know the thrill. Continental Airlines said it is still looking at inflight Wi-Fi, but is more excited about satellite TV on their planes.

To make a profit from onboard internet, airlines need to have at least 8-10 % of travelers paying for the service. One model has been to charge more for longer flights, and less for short hops.  Some industry insiders suggest that there will be an evolution of price models, eventually people will get a subscription by the month, or buy a package of five flights with internet for a set fee.

What we’d like to see here at the APR blog is for airlines to make it free. Simply offer the ‘Net and use it as an advantage.  Put a few ads on the sides, give people the chance to surf all they want. Why not brag about how you’re the airline that doesn’t hit the passengers up for a fee, and be a hero.  We’ve seen how Southwest brags in its ads about no baggage fees and no change fees. This could give one airline true geek hero status.