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Google frees up Virgin America in-flight WiFi

Holiday hit

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In-flight WiFi's been slowly encroaching on airlines, but you've had to pay. Now, Google will provide free service aboard Virgin American flights over the holiday period.

The Mountain View Chocolate Factory is certainly not shy about magnanimous gestures. If this were ancient Roman times, Google would provide the masses with the amphitheaters and slaves for our blood sport. But seeing as it's 2009, free in-flight WiFi for Americans will have to do. Not bad considering*.

The gratis Google WiFi will be available on all Virgin American flights from the Mountain View Chocolate Factory between November 10 to January 15. Online access on Virgin flights normally cost between $6.00 and $13.00 depending on the length of the trip.

Virgin American has been using Google's Gogo inflight WiFi service in its entire commercial fleet since May of this year. The airline estimates that about 12 to 15 per cent of customers use the WiFi service during shorter jaunts. Long routes - like Boston to San Francisco - see that number jump up to about 20 to 25 per cent. Just how the Gogo WiFi holds up when everyone with an internet-enabled machine is surfing should be an interesting test for the service.

Google says to expect speeds similar to mobile broadband on the ground, but even at a snail's pace, the internet still beats SkyMall magazine and a passive-aggressive battle for a shared armrest for in-flight entertainment.

Those tempted by the offer can jump to Google's freeholidaywifi.com website created for the occasion to see Virgin American's flight destinations. Interestingly, Virgin America's HQ is up the road from the Googleplex, outside San Francisco International Airport. ®

*…that internet is actually an accurate substitute for watching a man be devoured by lions to forget your own problems.

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