Interactive Traveler: Web by Land, Air and Sea
IN THE AIR
Logging on at 30,000 feet will soon be much simpler, now that several companies are launching Internet-access systems for commercial aircraft.
First up is Tenzing Communications, whose technology is being installed now on certain Air Canada and Singapore Airlines flights, and on Cathay Pacific's entire fleet in early 2001. It will allow you to connect to the Internet and send e-mail at 1.5 megabits per second (current in-flight systems are much slower); however, you'll only be able to access select Web sites that are cached on a server aboard the aircraft and updated every 15 minutes. Prices haven't yet been set.
More promising is Boeing's Connexion, a new system that lets fliers surf in real time. It uses a special aircraft antenna and satellite links to reach speeds of 5 megabits per second for downloading data, 1.5 Mbps for transmitting—equivalent to DSL or cable-modem speeds—at a projected cost of about $25 an hour. The company is currently in discussions with several airlines, but at press time no companies had yet signed on, citing disagreements with Boeing about equity and the sharing of revenues.
ON THE WATER
Most major cruise ships now have computer centers or Internet cafés where passengers can search the Web and check their e-mail at speeds of 64 to 128 Kbps.
The cost to log on varies from line to line. On the 12 Royal Caribbean vessels and five Princess ships that have Internet centers, the rate comes to 50 cents a minute (with a 15-minute minimum on Princess). On Holland America's four wired ships and Norwegian Cruise Line's entire fleet, it's 75 cents a minute (with a five-minute minimum on both). Crystal Cruises' two wired ships charge $1.25 a minute and have a 10-minute minimum.
Some lines have even begun to network individual cabins. For example, NCL's Norwegian Sky now has data ports in most cabins; suites on Celebrity's new Millennium are equipped with fully wired flat-screen PC's and printers.
BEAM ME IN, SCOTTIE
So now you can check into a hotel room via a cell phone and check out via a TV set. What's next?This spring, the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is launching an interface that will allow you to bypass the front desk and unlock your door, all with a Palm Pilot (your room "key" is beamed to you). You'll even be able to settle your bill. All you need is a handheld device that operates on Palm software and has infrared capability.