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Air Canada tests in-flight Internet service

Air Canada

Timothy Stake/CNW Group

Air Canada is testing whether travellers want to pay to surf the Web, send e-mail or work via the Internet while flying, as the airline looks at new measures to boost revenue.

The country's biggest airline, working on a $500-million cost-cutting and revenue growth plan, also began charging extra fees last week to book specific seats with additional leg room, starting at $14.

Trials of Gogo Internet service, on select Toronto-Los Angeles and Montreal-Los Angeles routes, will run until Jan. 29. Montreal-based Air Canada said it is the first Canadian carrier to offer the service.

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Passengers will pay $9.95 per flight to use a laptop computer and $7.95 to use a personal electronic device, such as a smartphone.

A full launch of the service depends on the trial's outcome, regulatory approval and developing the necessary ground infrastructure in Canada to provide a domestic network, Air Canada said.

Initially, the system will be available only in the continental United States via Aircell, which has built a high-speed mobile network for commercial and business aviation.

Air Canada plans to extend the system to other North American routes with a Canadian air-to-ground network.

The airline also released last month a free BlackBerry application that lets travellers track flight information, such as schedule changes.

Air Canada is also expanding its domestic services with "strategic" flight additions, such as daily service to Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the country's Arctic, starting in March 2010.

While industry conditions remain tough, the company said early this month that "the worst of the worst" was behind it. Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu told analysts that, while the economic outlook was improving, a full recovery was not expected for 12 to 18 months.

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