Wi-Fi test drive will have to wait

Longer trip may bring better luck for those looking to use Southwest’s newest option

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

I was all set to give Southwest Airlines’ Wi-Fi a whirl on a recent flight.

Portable Wi-Fi enabled device? Check.

Headphones? Check.

Instructions on how to access the Row 44 system? Check. Southwest’s inflight publication, Spirit Magazine, has a section that explains how to log on at 10,000 feet.

Full battery charge? Check. In most airports where Southwest operates, there are charging stations in the gate area. It’s fairly easy to juice up your device before you board.

I was looking to test-drive the Internet capability of the system and maybe look in on Southwest’s new inflight entertainment options, innovations the company introduced widely last month.

But as I boarded my flight at Salt Lake City International Airport bound for McCarran International Airport, I realized that despite all my preparations, I wouldn’t be doing any high-altitude surfing. Unfortunately for me, I was climbing onto one of Southwest’s Boeing 737-300 jet models.

The airline’s -300 and -500 series 737s won’t have Wi-Fi. Those planes are next in line to be retired by the airline, so the company doesn’t plan to equip them.

There are 148 of the old planes in the fleet of 569 jets, so there’s a 1 in 4 chance of getting on a plane that doesn’t have the satellite-driven technology. A high percentage of flights that pass through Las Vegas are long hauls on Southwest’s 737-700 and -800 planes. But short flights also could have older planes.

Southwest announced last month that it completed its Wi-Fi enabling program as well as access to movies on demand and streamed television broadcasts.

Movies cost $5 per film, per device and there are some archived TV episodes also available. Southwest offers eight channels of live news and sports programming.

Wi-Fi service can be bought for $8 a day, per device, which includes stops and connecting flights. So if you’re flying to the East Coast and your plane stops in Chicago, you don’t have to pay another $8.

You don’t have to buy Wi-Fi access to get the movie and television offerings. Connect to “southwestWi-Fi,” open a browser and the user will be directed to an entertainment portal with a free retail site, a flight tracker and some games.

Southwest says it is the first air carrier to stream live broadcasts to passengers’ personal devices.

The airline, McCarran’s busiest, also announced other Las Vegas news.

This month, the company announced a new Las Vegas route with nonstop flights to and from Des Moines, Iowa, beginning Sept. 29. It will compete with Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air.

Southwest, which also owns AirTran, has almost integrated the two companies. There are now just three daily AirTran flights from Las Vegas, two a day to Atlanta and one a day to Orange County. Southwest also serves those destinations from McCarran, so it won’t be long before the AirTran brand disappears.

Southwest also announced the return of one of its seasonal operations beginning Sept. 29. Nonstop round trips will run between Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla. Including the new Des Moines flights, that will make 55 nonstop markets from McCarran for Southwest, easily the largest presence of any airline flying here.

Jacksonville to Las Vegas is one of Southwest’s longest trips, just shy of five hours’ flying time.

With that kind of time, it would be a great opportunity to try out the airline’s Wi-Fi and entertainment operations.

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