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Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: Shortly after completing its acquisition of Virgin America, Alaska Airlines attempts to show that “different works” with the launch of a free in-flight chat aboard its Gogo-equipped airplanes.

On Friday, Alaska Airlines announced free in-flight access to some of the most popular chat apps. Passengers flying aboard Alaska flights that offer access to Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi can use WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger free of charge.

Called Free Chat, the service is currently in public beta, with the full version scheduled to go live on January 24. To use it, passengers must log into their Gogo account once on board, and follow the instructions based on their preferred chat platform. “We know that staying in touch while on the go is essential to our guests, many of whom don’t need full Internet access,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines’ executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, in a press release. “Free Chat is a great way to keep that connection alive without breaking the bank.” As if anticipating the next question, he added, “And yes, it’s fully emoji-compatible.”

“We know that staying in touch while on the go is essential to our guests, many of whom don’t need full Internet access.” — Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines

At the moment, Free Chat is available on Alaska Airlines’ Gogo-enabled fleet; rollout to sister airlines Virgin America and Horizon Air will be contingent upon passenger feedback. Midair chat fans are probably aware of Virgin America’s in-flight chat service, which essentially adds flirt functionality to the in-flight entertainment system, allowing passengers to communicate with – and order drinks for – one another. However, a passenger can only use it to communicate with other passengers, and not with people on the ground. Alaska’s Free Chat presents a wider array of use cases.

In addition to chatting the flight away, during the month of March, passengers can use their mobile devices to access Alaska’s entire catalog of entertainment for free. “This week’s enhancements are just the beginning of the new features and promotions guests can expect to see us implement over the next year,” said Harrison.

Jordan juggles deadlines across various time zones as he writes about travel, culture, entertainment, and technology.