By Clay Dillow
FORTUNE -- The little things that used to make air travel seem so much more luxurious -- the full-cabin meal service, the free booze, those precious few extra inches of legroom -- have largely disappeared over the last couple of decades as rising fuel prices and general belt-tightening by airlines have eaten into the comforts passengers now consider extras.
But it turns out many modern air travelers are less concerned with physical comforts than with connectivity. In fact, some 90% of airline passengers would give up at least one other onboard convenience for one single in-flight amenity: Wi-Fi.
A survey conducted earlier this summer by technology giant Honeywell's (HON) Aerospace division found that the vast majority of airline passengers think Wi-Fi should be available on every flight. And not just any Wi-Fi -- those surveyed want the kind of stability and speed they've come to know in their homes and offices. The kind of Wi-Fi that supports Skype calls and chat services. The kind of Wi-fi that can stream three back-to-back episodes of Breaking Bad without freezing up.
But what's more interesting is how passengers value their connectivity over other in-flight amenities. For its part, Honeywell -- which, it should be noted, manufactures all kind of jetliner components including the kinds of communication equipment that enables in-flight Wi-Fi -- conducted the survey to demonstrate a real passenger demand for better airborne online access. What it identified in the offing is a culture so concerned with connectivity we're now largely willing to forgo all kinds of other comforts and conveniences -- up to and including a working lavatory.
While only a third of respondents (the roughly 3,000 passengers were mostly from the U.S. but also included some passengers from London and Singapore) said that Wi-Fi is the No. 1 amenity they need, roughly 80% (and nearly 90% of Americans) said Wi-Fi should always be available during flights. That's especially true on long flights; 54% of Americans, 39% of Brits, and 30% of Singaporeans say they wouldn't be able to go even five hours on a flight without connecting to the web.
But where the numbers get really interesting -- and perhaps where they begin to plumb the collective psyche of a culture that's virtually always plugged in -- is when the survey asks respondents to value Wi-Fi in comparison to other traditional in-flight conveniences.
Nearly nine in 10 passengers would forgo at least one conventional airline amenity for a faster and more stable Wi-Fi connection. For roughly 60% of passengers, having no connection is worse than having a seat that doesn't recline. The same number would rather have access to fast, stable Internet than to be able to sit in their preferred seat. One in three (one in four among Brits) would rather sit next to a crying baby for the duration of a flight than repeatedly lose the Wi-Fi connection. Seven in 10 would be more frustrated by a slow connection than by slow food or beverage service.
But while screaming babies and slow beverage service are minor annoyances, plenty of passengers would subject themselves to actual physical discomfort in exchange for enhanced connectivity in the air. A quarter of passengers would give up a full six inches of legroom in exchange for the best Wi-Fi service possible. Still others -- 13% of Americans, 17% of Brits, and 22% of Singaporeans -- would give up their bathroom privileges. (The survey doesn't specify if these are the same respondents who say they couldn't make it through an unplugged five-hour flight.)
What are passengers doing with in-flight Wi-Fi when they do have it? Between one quarter and one third use it strictly for professional purposes to ensure their airborne hours remain productive. The rest use it predominantly for personal reasons: sending and receiving personal email, logging into social networks, or streaming movies and TV shows.
But just because passengers aren't working, per se, doesn't mean they're not getting anything done. In an anecdotal portion of the survey, passengers said they've conducted critical last-minute banking, made much-needed medical appointments at their destinations, and responded to important time-sensitive emails via in-flight Wi-Fi.
One survey respondent claims to have planned an entire wedding during a flight. Another used the idle in-flight hours to file for divorce.
From November 20 to January 2, passengers on Airtran, Virgin America and Delta will receive free WiFi on their flights.
A repeat of last year, Google is giving free WiFi to some holiday travelers. Google (GOOG) is also using the opportunity to advertise their Chrome browser, which has been gaining significant market share lately (closing in on 10%). The gift appears to be from the Chrome team and will work with Gogo wireless. Will MORESeth Weintraub - Nov 8, 2010 10:48 AM ET
In an interview with the Financial Times, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said an employee snuck some code into the Streetview computers causing them to collect information.
The case has been making headlines across the world and has Google in courts from Oregon to Germany. But, was it caused by one employee? (Working on his 20% time?) According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, that employee is now the subject of an internal investigation.
In the first case, an engineer, MORESeth Weintraub - Jun 6, 2010 12:43 AM ET
By Scott Moritz
NEW YORK - A brief hands-on experience with the Google (GOOG) G1 phone gives the impression that after a slew of touchscreen duds from other telcos, Apple's (AAPL) iPhone finally has a worthy rival.
The highly-anticipated HTC phone for T-Mobile (DT) was unveiled in New York Tuesday, and kiosks with technical experts were set up so media people could run the first Android-powered phone through some tricks. T-Mobile will start MOREsmoritz - Sep 23, 2008 2:14 PM ET
By Yi-Wyn Yen
Google has tussled with everyone from Microsoft to the telcos on Capitol Hill. Now it's going after television broadcasters and cable companies.
The search king launched its first public advocacy campaign on Monday to encourage consumers to petition the Federal Communications Commission to "free the airwaves." As the TV industry prepares to switch from analog to digital broadcasting in February, the FCC will decide what happens with the unused MOREyiwyn - Aug 18, 2008 5:46 PM ET
By Michal Lev-Ram
You know the feeling: You just ordered your caramel machiatto (extra foam), sat down at a table and opened up your laptop. You log on, hoping to quickly check your e-mail, when all of a sudden a screen pops up asking for your name and credit card information. That's when you realize that hopping online won't be as quick -- or as cheap-- as you'd hoped.
Say goodbye to MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - Feb 12, 2008 2:51 PM ET
By Michael V. Copeland
If you want a hint at where innovation in the gadget world is headed, talk to the chip guys. These nuggets of insanely complex silicon that companies like Intel, AMD (AMD), Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell (MRVL) are creating today will end up in the phones, laptops, televisions and mobile video/music/Internet devices of tomorrow.
We all know that Intel is dead-set on making WiMax -- wireless access measured in MORETodd Woody - Jan 14, 2008 2:00 AM ET
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