I'm typing this somewhere over Louisville, Ky. (or so the "live map" on my seat monitor tells me), on board JetBlue flight 641, a "BetaBlue" New York-to-San Francisco plane equipped with Yahoo and BlackBerry e-mail and instant-messaging access. And, yes, I've found a hack already--as it turns out, you have access to some of Yahoo's mobile site as well, enabling you to look up news headlines, finance information, weather, and a handful of other light mobile apps.
Once we reached an altitude of 10,000 feet, the flight crew told us we could check out the Wi-Fi service. I couldn't get it to load at all at first, so I closed up my Mac laptop (in the interest of preserving battery power) and watched an old episode of Saved by the Bell on the in-flight DirecTV system. Then, after the nail-biting suspense of wondering whether Zack and Kelly would get back together (they didn't), I tried the Wi-Fi again.
I was able to load up the Yahoo Mail in the Sky application, an ultra-light version of Yahoo Mail, but before I could send any messages, the system had faltered again. About five minutes later, I was able to ping CNET News.com's newsroom with a test message. I received three replies from my colleagues on the ground, but then the Wi-Fi started to fuzz in and out again.
The e-mail application is very light. You have access to your address book, but you can't send attachments, which is why you aren't seeing any awesome photos of me hanging out with the flight crew. It all reminded me of an ultra-low-end mobile browser, which leads me to the hack I found.
Indeed, as I learned, it's Yahoo Mobile. As it turns out the entire Yahoo Mobile domain (us.m.yahoo.com) is available on BetaBlue. This means that I was able to look up Yahoo News in its ultra-light mobile form, check the weather in San Francisco, and check sports scores. (No, you can't play fantasy football.)
As for instant messaging, it took quite a few tries before I was able to load Yahoo Messenger, but eventually it juiced up--and let me say that the instant-message application is much sleeker and impressive than the e-mail one. (Yahoo has said that a 2.0 version of its Mail in the Sky app is on the way.)
BetaBlue's Wi-Fi infrastructure clearly isn't ready for prime time, which is why I think it's ultimately a good idea that they've started small. Representatives from JetBlue's LiveTV division, which handles the service, said that the program will see expansions over the next few months.
There are still a few hours left in the flight, so I'm going to play with the Wi-Fi a bit more and maybe take a nap. Like I said in my pre-flight blog, planes are for sleeping.