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Southwest Airlines enables gate-to-gate messaging for flyers

Southwest Airlines has added a new option for in-flight Wi-Fi, allowing consumers to communicate via iChat without paying for full Internet connection.

The messaging functionality will work throughout the entire flight, from gate to gate. Southwest Airlines partnered with connectivity provider Global Eagle Entertainment to launch the new service.

?We have a full Wi-Fi access option for $8 a day, but we wanted to give our customers just another communication option at a better value, and since so many customers enjoy texting and staying connected while they?re flying, especially now with our gate-to-gate option, this just seemed like a natural progression for the product,? said Angela Vargo, marketing manager of product development at Southwest Airlines Co., Dallas, TX. ?Especially for a shorter flight when they may not need full Wi-Fi but still want the ability to communicate.?

The service is currently only available for Apple devices with iOS 5 or later and iMessage, but Southwest plans to launch Android capability with apps such as Whatsapp and Viber in the beginning of 2014.

The introductory price for the messaging service is $2 per day, but the cost is subject to change in the coming weeks and months.

Consumers can access the service once onboard the airplane by switching their phones to ?airplane mode? and connecting to the Southwest Wi-Fi network. They will then be directed to the Wi-Fi portal homepage, where they can select ?Messaging? from the ?Connect? tab and pay $2 for a day?s worth of texting.

Many consumers want to be able to connect with friends, family and coworkers while travelling, especially to update on delays or estimated time of arrival. The Southwest messaging service allows them to give more accurate information and stay connected with loved ones.

With the Federal Aviation Administration?s recent approval of mobile use below 10,000 feet, the messaging service makes even more sense (see story).

According to Southwest, it is the only United States carrier to offer Wi-Fi below 10,000 feet and the first to offer a messaging service.

Mobile planes
A number of different airlines have been adjusting the in-flight experience according to consumers? mobile behavior.

For instance, Hawaiian Airlines provides passengers with iPad minis to provide better in-flight entertainment (see story).

American Airlines incorporated tablets in a slightly different way with an iPad application that integrates with the airline?s loyalty program and mobile gaming (see story).

Mobile opens up new opportunities for the airline industry and can create a better experience out of a less-than-enjoyable one.

Southwest?s messaging service is one way of doing so.

?It gives them another option and allows them the ability to stay connected to friends and family coworkers while they?re flying,? Ms. Vargo said. ?We have a free TV option, so a customer can enjoy free TV and not have to purchase full Wi-Fi. It?s a better way to optimize their inflight experience.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York