Kevin Maney wants
to know why there isn’t wifi on Amtrak. The question is symptomatic of a
much bigger problem, which is that transportation infrastructure in general
is decidedly unfriendly to those of us in the laptop classes. Virgin America,
when it starts flying next month, will be the very first US airline to provide
power for laptops in coach, and there’s not much sign that anyone else is minded
to follow suit. Boeing’s Connexion
wifi service was shut down at the end of 2006. And yesterday, I discovered what
happens when you try to check in online for a US Airways flight which has been
cancelled. The US Airways website does not tell you that your flight has been
cancelled. Instead, it tells you that online check-in is not available, and
that you have to travel to the airport in order to check in there.
I think the problem is that the operators of planes and trains still have a
mindset where people with laptops are business travelers, and so they think
of providing services to people with laptops as a low-volume, high-margin proposition.
If and when they start to realize that lots of normal people, not travelling
on business, would love to be able to use their laptops on trains and planes,
then a high-volume, low-margin alternative might emerge – something funded
by advertising, perhaps, rather than eye-watering hourly charges. It’s bound
to happen one day, but unless and until Google starts getting in on the act,
I reckon it’ll take a very long time.
As for the US Airways website, that’s just dreadful, and unforgivable.