JetBlue plans to offer wireless e-mail in flight

JetBlue Airways Corp., the first U.S. carrier to offer live in-flight television, will detail plans by year's end to let passengers send free e-mail or text messages from wireless handheld devices.

No U.S. airline now offers such a service. New York-based JetBlue, founded by Utah native David Neeleman, is developing the technology through its LiveTV LLC subsidiary, spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said Thursday in an interview.

"We think that is what customers want," Dervin said. "They have told us in no uncertain terms that they do not want cell phone usage allowed onboard. So we're looking at silent options."

JetBlue doesn't know when such a service would be available, Dervin said. Once a system is devised, the low-fare carrier would need to test it and get Federal Aviation Administration approval to offer it to travelers, she said.

LiveTV last year was among two companies that won a U.S. Federal Communications Commission auction of airwaves to provide Internet service on commercial flights. JetBlue and LiveTV currently are studying ways to use that spectrum to offer e-mail and text-messaging for handheld devices.

"We are already certified to run the DirecTV service so, obviously, what we're looking for is to piggyback on the existing certification and make it go as smoothly as possible," Dervin said. "That's where we have a leg up on our competitors."

The carrier has no plans now to provide wireless Internet access, Dervin said, although she wouldn't rule it out for the future.

Southwest Airlines Co. said in April it may equip its planes with wireless Internet connections to attract more business fliers. Dallas-based Southwest plans to outfit several jets with prototype systems before deciding whether to offer the service, which would give customers Internet access.

Dervin said it was too early to estimate to cost of a wireless messaging service at JetBlue.

"The service we purchase from LiveTV has to be cost-effective," she said. "We want to make the service for the customer free, so any cost to us to install it or manage and maintain it has to be something that is affordable."

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