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Google offers free in-flight Wi-Fi for the holidays

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season, the search engine said Monday.

The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran (AAI), Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google.

Last year, Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) ran a free in-air Wi-Fi promotion on Virgin America, but it also sponsored free Internet access in dozens of airports around the U.S. The company won't be repeating that offer this year, according to a company representative.

Virgin America, which was the only airline that participated last year's inaugural Google promotion, said travelers have been steadily increasing their use of in-flight Wi-Fi since the airline launched the service in 2008.

"We saw a jump in the number of guests logging on after last year's free Wi-Fi gift and we expect to see an increase again," David Cush, chief executive of Virgin America, said in a prepared statement. "Once people try WiFi at 35,000 feet they rarely go back."

For this year's promotion, Google said it chose to partner with airlines that have outfitted their entire domestic fleet with Gogo wireless technology. That left out operators such as American Airlines (AMR, Fortune 500), which has only adopted the technology on some of its planes.

Gogo, the most widely used in-flight wireless provider in the U.S., estimates that the free service will be available on more than 700 planes, and that about 15 million passengers will use it this holiday season. A Gogo spokeswoman said this year's free offering is the company's largest ever.

Delta (DAL, Fortune 500), which operates the largest fleet of Wi-Fi enabled aircraft in the world, said it expects more than 11 million customers to benefit from the holiday promotion. To top of page

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