Google to Offer Free In-Flight WiFi Over Holidays


Google is giving away an early holiday gift, dishing out free WiFi access to passengers traveling domestically on Delta Airlines, Virgin America or AirTran between Nov. 20 and Jan. 2, the company announced Monday.

While the move is likely to instill good cheer among travelers, it may also boost the market share of Chrome -- Google's own browser -- down the line, says Vince Vizzaccaro, a spokesman for Net Applications, which tracks browser market share.

"It forces people to try Chrome briefly, and its a great way to get Chrome introduced to users," Vizzaccaro said.

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Under the program, travelers will first log onto Gogo Inflight Internet, which operates the carriers' WiFi service. From there, users go to a Google's (GOOG) Chrome landing page that acts as the gateway to travelers Internet access. Google recommends folks download its Chrome browser before boarding the plane. (Logic: No one wants a server to stress under the weight of multiple in-flight downloads. Holiday traveling is stressful enough.)

Gogo usually charges $4.95 for the first 1.5 hours of usage, or up to $11 for a 24-hour pass. Although Google did not disclose the amount of the tab it expects to pick up for its free WiFi promotion, it did note it expects roughly 15 million people to have access to the service, as well as to Chrome.

Although Chrome downloads are not counted toward Net Applications market share data, if travelers decide to actually use Chrome to surf the Internet instead of another browser, those figures would make their way to Net Applications market share data, Vizzaccaro said. Net Application tracks actual browser usage based on monitoring a number of Web sites.

Here's a look at the October market share for browsers:

October browser market share
October browser market share

Last month, Chrome ranked third, with 8.5% of the browser market that it captured in just two years, according to Net Application's data. Microsoft's (MSFT) Internet Explorer, while posting declining marketshare, still leads the pack with 59.2% market share, followed by Firefox with 22.8% market share.

"Chrome may see a bigger uptake from this promotion than they normally would have," Vizzaccaro said, noting, however, that Chrome has been rapidly gaining share in the past two years since it launched.

Last year, Chrome ranked fourth among browsers with 2.6% of the market, behind Apple's (AAPL) Safari, which had almost 4% of the market. Firefox had little more market share at 23.3% and Microsoft substantially more at nearly 67%.

"We are constantly working to help provide a better web experience to users around the world," Sundar Pichai, Google vice president of product management, said in a statement.

Originally published