Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Qantas to offer only canned net content

Qantas has shelved plans to offer live internet access on its A380 planes from next month as American Airlines comes under fire from customers and flight attendants for allowing passengers to surf porn websites.

Qantas will instead offer only a limited selection of what it calls "cached internet content" and access to web-based email and chat services.

A Qantas spokeswoman said the internet plans had been paired back due to "logistical and regulatory issues" encountered by its connectivity provider, OnAir. The airline said the full internet service was now scheduled to be available "later in 2009".

It would not elaborate on the issues and OnAir did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, the world's largest airline, American Airlines, began offering passengers full in-flight broadband internet access on its Boeing 767-200 planes for $US12.95 a flight.

The US Association of Professional Flight Attendants last week called on the airline's management to install filtering software to block inappropriate sites, following complaints from flight attendants and passengers.

A spokesman for American Airlines said in a statement the company's preference was to provide unfiltered connections - such as those found at the average home or office - and have flight crews monitor internet usage for inappropriate material.

Qantas has ordered 20 A380 planes from Airbus, the first of which will enter service from October 20, initially flying between Sydney/Melbourne and Los Angeles but in January next year expanding to the Sydney-Singapore and Sydney-London routes.

Last year Qantas general manager John Borghetti was talking up the inflight entertainment system on the A380s, saying "there has never been anything like this on board a commercial aircraft".

But the lack of a full internet service will most likely disappoint many passengers who will have to make do with a limited selection of "cached internet content".

Qantas has refused to give further details of what content will be included - other than - or how much the service would cost.

"No airline operating the A380 currently offers a full internet service," the Qantas spokeswoman said.

Despite the pared back internet access, the A380's inflight entertainment system will still offer 100 movies, 500 television show episodes, 1000 audio CDs, 20 radio channels and 80 games.

Laptop power sockets will be provided for every passenger. USB ports, also built into every seat, will potentially allow passengers to access multimedia content from music players and portable hard drives through the seat-back screens.

Separately, Qantas is rolling out new technology on its domestic fleet allowing customers to access inflight SMS and email from their mobile phones. The service is pitched towards business users but Qantas said voice calls would be disabled.

From early next year, Qantas passengers will be able to do away with paper boarding passes and board using a 2D barcode sent to a mobile phone or other handheld device.

And for the first time, Qantas international customers will be able to check in to their flights over the internet, a feature previously offered only to those travelling on domestic flights.


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