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JetBlue brings Internet to the air

One small step for man …

Nobody walked on the moon Tuesday, but JetBlue Airway’s flight from John F. Kennedy International (JFK) to San Francisco International (SFO) was notable for being the first flight on which passengers were able to access e-mail and send instant messages via Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and some Blackberry devices.

Once the flight reached 10,000 feet, passengers could view specialized versions of Yahoo! Messenger and Mail. Bandwidth on the flight is provided by LiveTV, a subsidiary of JetBlue that also provides DirecTV and XM Radio on flights for the airline.

The Tuesday flight began a “several months” process of gathering customer feedback and tweaking the service in hopes that it will eventually be extended to the airline’s entire fleet, says Bryan Baldwin, manager of corporate communications.

“We’re looking to enhance the customer experience without charging them,” he says. “We look at adding amenities to our customers’ in-flight service that they don’t have to pay for.”

The BetaBlue Airbus A320 has three Wi-Fi access points installed behind ceiling panels and an onboard server. Several publications sent reporters up in the flight and reportedly there were some glitches.

For example, CNET News.com reporter Caroline McCarthy initially struggled to load the necessary program on her laptop, then suffered a system falter before being able to send a test message to her newsroom. She eventually received three replies from colleagues on the ground before the Wi-Fi “started to fuzz in and out again.”

Baldwin, who says he was able to exchange messages with several colleagues in the air, acknowledges the airline will tweak the program based on the customer feedback and make decisions about expansion in the months ahead.

“We certainly do want to provide this via our entire fleet eventually,” he says.