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Alaska Airlines is adding mobile messaging to its spectrum of in-flight amenities and is dishing it out free of charge.
The technology will be provided by Gogo, which operates the onboard Wi-Fi across most of Alaska’s fleet of 175 aircraft and will be free of charge.
The messaging service, of course, will only be limited to technologies that can work over a Wi-Fi network such as iMessage or WhatsApp. Short Message Service (SMS) or Multimedia Message Service (MMS) messages, which operate off of a phone network, will still not work.
Alaska also isn’t the first carrier to offer in-flight messaging. Any passenger who pays for any variety of in-flight Internet — be it from ViaSat, Gogo or Panasonic on American, Delta or United — has access to messenger apps like iMessage and WhatsApp. In late 2015, Gogo even launched messaging-only packages on select flights for $3.
Where Alaska is leading the industry, however, is in offering the service for free. Branded as Free Chat, the amenity effectively cuts out the fee for the low-cost portion of Gogo streaming Internet and effectively turns it into an added perk for anyone flying on the airline.
The airline’s choice to start offering free messaging service makes particular sense in light of its recent acquisition of Virgin America. That carrier had a strong following among younger generations that place a higher value on mobile messaging. By offering the service for free, Alaska may be extending an olive branch to any travelers disaffected by a legacy carrier purchasing the younger, boutique airline.
Indeed, Free Chat will only be available on legacy Alaska Airlines flights, though the carrier left the door open to expanding the service to Virgin America in a prepared release. The airline also plans to offer free streaming movies for the next several months — again only on Alaska flights.
Free Chat is already in beta and will be launched at full scale on January 24th.