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Culture

Surfing Among the Clouds

German airline Lufthansa launched its first in-flight Internet service on Wednesday. It offers travellers the opportunity to surf the net and check emails 10 000 m over the Atlantic.

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Up in the air is where Luftansa's internet cafe´ is

Days when you could just put aside pressing work matters, fasten your seatbelt and sit back to read the in-flight magazine on a plane could soon be over.

On Wednesday, German airline Lufthansa introduced a new service offering passengers a chance to surf the net, check on the latest news and answer emails while flying over the Atlantic.

For three months, travellers will be able to try out Lufthansa's first free Internet service on flights between Frankfurt, Germany's financial centre, and Washington DC. Boeing spokesman Heinrich Grossbongardt is sure of its success. "We are sure that the access to the Internet on board will boost our competitiveness," he said.

Costly past-time

Boeing has signed up 4 airlines to the new in-flight service. It includes British Airways and Scandinavian airline SAS.

If the service proves successful, it will be extended to other long-haul flights across the world. Both Boeing and Lufthansa refuse to name the price of extending their Internet services. However, what is clear is that it will be a costly pleasure: Surfing the net is expected to cost passengers up to 30 euro ($31.59) per flight.

Satellite connection

Passengers using the new service will have to use their own laptops, connecting with the net via a traditional ethernet connection or a wireless link.

Planes offering this service are linked to a satellite with an antennae fitted just behind the Jumbo's characteristic "hump". According to Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty, providing a constant connection during a long-haul flight proved the most difficult obstacle: The antennae must be able to endure speeds of up to 900 kmh, climbs and dives, nasty weather, turbulence and sudden changes of direction.

If the antennae loses contact with the satellite hovering 36, 000 km above the earth, the internet connection breaks off.

Plans for expansion

Boeing hopes the three month trial on Lufthansa flights will give it enough time to make any changes or improve the service. It then hopes to launch the project full-scale early next year.

However, the next three months will show whether Grossbongardt's vaunted "competitiveness boost" will become a reality. Both Delta and United Air lines planned on expanding their communication services for business travellers four years ago, and equipped numerous seats with so-called "Sky Phones", a wireless travel service. Today, of the ambitious project just one phone per cabin is left.