Alaska Airlines has added new amenities to target a younger demographic. It makes perfect sense, as Virgin America (a low-cost airline well-known for hip and youthful branding) recently acquired Alaska Airlines. One new in-flight feature is particularly promising–the convenience of free smartphone messaging from 36,000 feet in the air.
Alaska Airlines has announced the launch of a new service called Free Chat. The technology is provided by Gogo, which offers on-board Wi-Fi on many of Alaska’s flights. Free Chat permits passengers to use web-based messaging apps in-flight. “We know that staying in touch while on the go is essential to our guests, many of whom don’t need full Internet access. Free Chat is a great way to keep that connection alive without breaking the bank,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines’ executive vice president and chief commercial officer. Virgin America and Horizon Air could implement this service too, depending on customer feedback.
Many are probably asking the obvious question: how is Free Chat different from the usual in-flight Wi-Fi services?
Onboard Wi-Fi has been an option on many airlines for some time now, but it is generally not a free service. Free Chat is unique because it focuses on smartphone messaging as a complimentary service. Contingent on internet access, passengers may use web-based messaging apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to send text messages through Free Chat. Short Message Service (SMS) or Multimedia Message Service (MMS) messages, which use phone networks, are not available. The beta version of Free Chat was released last Friday and the full version launches on January 24th.
Free Chat is one of several new in-flight products that will be available on Alaska Airlines in 2017. A premium economy class is expected to be seen on around 90 percent of the fleet by the end of the year. The new class offers more than four inches of extra legroom, early boarding and free snacks and beverages. An upgrade to premium economy will cost anywhere from $15-$79, depending on the trip.