I was hoping to be working on my website right now but instead I’m now sitting here on a Delta Airlines flight en route to Las Vegas via Minnesota and writing this post via Microsoft Word and not WordPress. Why? You ask. Well, I don’t have access to the Internet onboard so I can’t access my blog. Well, I do and could give you the easy answer but it wouldn’t make for a very entertaining blog post and I wouldn’t be doing you, my reader any justice. Instead, I’ll explain.
Of course it’s football Sunday and was hoping this flight had Wi-Fi access so I could watch my Seattle Seahawks during the second leg of my trip out to Nevada. I wasn’t sure, until I was about to board the plane and noticed a decal on the plane’s fuselage that said “Wi-Fi Onboard”. “Fantastic,” I thought, “I can work on my website and watch the game. Isn’t access to the Internet great.”
At this point, I have to admit I can sometimes be naïve (but I like to think of it as being optimistic), especially when it comes to big business and what should be “basic” human rights.
Upon reaching cruising altitude the Captain came on the intercom to let us know we could turn on our electronic devices, and I reached for my Macbook and hard drive, eager to work on my website (http://www.biologydesign.com) which is near completion.
My Mac instantly picked up (naturally) the Gogo Inflight wireless Internet signal and it’s unsecured! “Sweet!! “
After a minute or so waiting for the Gogo Inflight page to load (hey I’m on plane, what do you expect)…BAM!! I was presented with the Gogo Inflight homepage that looked more like an online dating site than a search engine or provider website, which is what I was expecting. The home page provided an extravagant and outrageous list of various prices for different access plans.
And on a side note: Yes ladies, I am single, if you can believe it.
This is where my naivety comes into play. Why on Earth wouldn’t Delta charge for Internet access?! They’ve got me by the proverbial groin. They know it, I know it, we all know it and all too well.
They know I really want to go to Vegas (kind of) and that nothing matches the convenience of air travel. They already charge me hundreds of dollars to be able to sit in a seemingly ever-shrinking seat and compact space during the flight, The past few years they’ve been charging me $35 for their handlers to throw, drop, stuff, cram, and generally abuse each one of my checked bags. I’m surprised they haven’t started charging me to use the onboard lavatory. (Note to airline CEO’s: DO NOT even think about it, but I’m sure you already have. Things will get really messy literally and figuratively.)
So why would I even fathom the thought that they would offer “free” Internet access? I have no idea. Again, I’m naïve sometimes. They know everyone still wants to be connected during flights. They know that guys like me travelling on Sundays want to watch their beloved football teams. They know we want to chat with friends and loved-ones or post on our blogs. So of course Delta and their constituents, such as Gogo Inflight want a piece of that action and stick it to us.
My point is that this goes completely against the idea of net neutrality. Why should I have to pay Delta/Gogo Inflight $39 a month for access to information (Internet) even if I am at 30,000 feet? I don’t have to pay the flight attendant for information, at least not yet. They don’t charge me for the 15 cents work of soda and peanuts they give me. Which makes absolutely no sense since those consist of atoms, which is much more expensive to produce, store, and distribute that the bits, that make up the information and data online. (For more about this topic, see Chris Anderson’s book, “Free”).
Well, to get an answer to my question as to why I have to pay, I decided to chat with an online representative, which Gogo was nice enough offer for free. Ironically, Dana (the online rep) didn’t have much information regarding the reason for charging Delta customers for this service besides the pre-scripted and generic corporate response.
However, I have to say that Dana was very kind and charming. She put up with my initial sarcasm and cynicism and was nice enough to banter back and forth with me regarding net neutrality. It turned out to be a very nice conversation and a great way to kill some time during my flight. I thank her for that.
In fact, our conversation kind of proved my point about the importance of allowing all to have free access to the Internet and the information contained within and what that allows to society. By allowing me to chat with Dana for FREE, she was able to give me information, albeit generic information, regarding the need to pay for the “infrastructure and some paychecks” associated with inflight Wi-Fi. Referring to an infrastructure that was already in place and paychecks to those online chat reps working from home part-time.
In return, I was able to give her information about net neutrality and why it must be supported. Furthermore, we got to know a little about each other as the conversation tended to go off topic (my fault right, Dana?) as we talked about her being an educator, my website, and our interests in chemistry and biology.
Basically, by charging me for Internet access, Delta and Gogoinflight are telling me that I can no longer have interactions, like the one I had with Dana for free. And yes, I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking, “if you want to interact, then talk to the person next to you.” Which makes sense of course, but is not the point I’m trying to make. Besides, you all know most stay in their little bubbles anyways and don’t want to go out of our way to talk to strangers in person.
Yet doing so online is easy, non-threatening, and I find, from experience that it can lead to incredibly strong and long-lasting relationships. Why would Delta, Gogoinflight, or any other company for that matter want to inhibit something like that? Especially when they’re marketing lingo undoubtedly includes some references to wanting to do just that…build a relationship with you.
Well, when you want to charge me for Internet access during your flights, Delta you’re not building a relationship with me. You’re just trying to get into my pockets and I know it. I’m not attracted to women who only care about money and even less attracted to corporations who do the same.
If you really care about us and want to build a relationship with us, the customer, then I suggest doing what Dana did. Listen to us, freely share information with us, get to know us as individuals, and allow us to share information with others.
Delta, I’m sure that if able to do so for free, more of your customers would be willing to use social media to blog or share their positive experiences of having free access to information during your flights. Heck, they might even enjoy having the ability to track their flight online. It could be a lot of positive PR.
But for right now it’s simple, you love to charge for Wi-Fi and it shows.