Flight Attendants Get Free Wifi. Can We?

American Airlines will hand out 17,000 Samsung Galaxy Note devices to flight attendants to record meal and beverage preferences and access customer information as needed — all while in flight. Bringing tablets to flight crews isn’t new to American: The airline was one of the first to replace paper manuals with tablets in the cockpit, and the first to receive FAA approval for that use.

Good for them. But where does all this leave the rest of u who’d rather not have to turn off our kindles when the cabin door closes? As Alec Baldwin famously learned when he tried to entertain himself online at the wrong moment last December (on an American flight, by the way), the airlines have their rules. The back and forth about when it’s safe to use gadgets in the passenger cabin may never end.

Airlines have some tough decisions ahead. Should they continue to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into seatback entertainment systems, or would they be better off understanding that many, if not most, of us travel with a Web-connected device? If they did, they might double down on WiFi so we can take responsibility for our own entertainment.

Of course if they do head in that direction, how much will WiFi ultimately cost? Delta’s been raising its fees lately, but how about free? And when precisely are the moments when devices have to be off?

Alec Baldwin would like some ironclad answers on that one.

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