In-flight instant messaging

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I'd been curious to learn more about how Virgin America's in-flight instant messaging service works, and happily, I sat next to Charles Ogilvie, the airline's Director of In-flight Entertainment, at our Extra Mile Awards last week. Charles is certainly proud of what he's done: He even brought the little keyboard that's at each seat in his suit pocket...

I already knew you could choose to receive or not receive messages (on your screen, a message along the lines of "You have a message from seat 10B. Do you want to accept it?" pops up). What I was curious about was whether you could get a sense of what that message might say ("Nice shirt! You went to UVA too?" or "Meet me in the lav, hotcakes") before you accept it; you can't, which is too bad. And I was curious what happens if people starting using it to really bug other people--especially when I learned you can send messages to 15 people at a time (or so I remember it that way--I had some wine at the awards ceremony). Charles said that there's a shut-off button somewhere that the flight attendants can press if things get out of hand.

One thing I really liked was that there's a "chat" function you can use while watching the pay-per-view movies or the TV channels. Basically, you can post your opinions and questions (using your name or a nickname) and other people watching can respond. It could certainly be annoying, but it could also be really cool. One of the things that amazes me about travel these days is that we often sit pressed up against someone--literally touching them--and never say one word. The experience is extraordinarily isolating! "Chatting" and IMing are a step in the right direction. One day, passengers might even speak to each other.

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