Alaska Airlines Snubs Wi-Fi Provider Row 44 -- Not to Mention Its Passengers

Last Updated Mar 5, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Last week, Alaska Airlines (ALK) pulled a switcheroo when it decided to go with Aircell instead of Row 44 for its inflight Wi-Fi solution. I've been scratching my head about this move, and it really makes things look bad for Row 44. Not to mention its passengers, who may well find their Internet service quite a bit spottier than expected.

Most U.S.-based airlines have gone with Aircell's GoGo product for their domestic needs, but Alaska and Southwest (LUV) had decided to test with Row 44. The benefits of Row 44 to Alaska were obvious. While Aircell's footprint roughly sits on top of the continental US thanks to its ground-based system, Row 44 is satellite-based and could reach much further.

For an airline like Alaska, that's a big deal. They do a ton of flying over Alaska and Canada in the north as well as a great deal of relatively new flying to Hawai'i. They also, of course, have a large Mexican network. With GoGo service ending about 100 miles from the border of the 48 states, those flights won't have Internet when they cross the border.

To make up for this, Alaska is interested in a downloaded GoGo video product where cached content can be delivered. Who the heck wants that? I mean, it's better than nothing, but it's not better than Internet access.

So why did Alaska go with GoGo when Row 44 would have been a much better fit? There are a couple things that come to mind. First off, it's likely less expensive for Alaska to install GoGo, and they don't even need to take the planes out of the fleet for the retrofit.

Second, and perhaps most interesting, Southwest has committed to installing Row 44 on its entire fleet. That can take a lot of time, and it's possible that Row 44 couldn't deliver on a decent schedule for Alaska. I find myself wondering if Row 44 is on the same trajectory as LiveTV was back in the day. With Southwest being the big customer, would they think about an acquisition?

That would be the only scenario in which this wouldn't necessarily be bad news for Row 44.

Photo via Flickr user i'm george, CC 2.0