When people talk about airplane technology, they usually mean the know-how that keeps the plane in the air. Other sorts of technology — say, checking e-mail and making mobile phone calls — may be nice, but at 35,000 feet, everything else is secondary to staying in the air. Indeed, mobile phones can’t even be used on aircraft, because the phone know-how can interfere with the staying-aloft know-how, and no one wants to mess with that. Thanks to some recent advances, however, all sorts of slick (and safe) services are making their way into the cabin — even in coach. Say hello to in-flight Internet access and on-demand video. Say goodbye to the last cell phone-free zone on (or above) earth.

Laptop-toting fliers can already surf the Internet from their seats, provided those seats are heading to Munich and not Minneapolis. Connexion by Boeing is an airborne hotspot providing high-speed Internet access throughout the cabin, at prices that seem expensive until you compare them to the price of your ticket (or the cough drops at the airport newsstand) — $26.95 buys 24 hours of access, $14.95 pays for two hours, and for a quick check of e-mail (including attachments) and sports scores, $9.95 buys one hour. Connexion was launched on Lufthansa in 2004, and since then it has been installed by a handful of international carriers, including China Airlines, El Al, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines. (So far, most have installed it only on select aircraft, so don’t expect to find it on every flight.) No domestic carriers have embraced Connexion yet, but since the revenue from the service is split between Boeing and the airlines, it’s just a matter of time before U.S. carriers adapt it, or a similar system, to help burnish their balance sheets.

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