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Productivity on a Plane

Cross-country flights have often been lost time for me from a work perspective. I've bought a lot of overpriced books in airport bookstores and read them rather than endure the hassles: opening a too-big laptop in a too-small space, monitoring the nauseously quick deterioration of battery life, reaching a productivity cul-de-sac because some key detail -- a 20-second Internet search away -- is unavailable at 30,000 feet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find recently that my $370 AirTran roundtrip flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles offered in-flight Wi-Fi. It was my first experience with wireless in the sky.

Going out, I actually did go through the hassle of using my laptop on the plane. I had a magazine feature story to write and all the notes necessary to get it done. But coming back, a combination of in-flight Wi-Fi, an Apple iPhone 4, a Microsoft Word-compatible app called Office2 Plus and a Bluetooth keyboard gave me a way to work in comfort with near back-in-the-office speed and productivity.

Signing up for in-flight Wi-Fi was relatively painless. AirTran uses a provider called GoGo, which charges $7.95 to hook up a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile device to the Internet for a flight longer than 1.5 hours. (Connecting with a laptop would have cost $12.95 on the same flight.) After turning on Wi-Fi from the iPhone's Airplane Mode, opening the Safari browser and entering some credit card info, I was online.

The next step was figuring out if Bluetooth use was allowed. Gogo's FAQ didn't mention Bluetooth, but an online chat with a Gogo helpdesk employee revealed that I'd need to ask the flight crew. The AirTran attendants hadn't fielded the question before. After discussing it over the beverage cart, one told me, "Try it, it might work."

Permission secured, I turned Bluetooth on from Airplane Mode and connected with an Apple Wireless Keyboard. Although sold as an accessory for Macs and iPads, the keyboard works just as well as an input device for the iPhone. It's a great little keyboard. It reminds me of my first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer, with its metal body and white plastic keys. While the keyboard is very small, the keys are comfortably sized and spaced for rapid typing. It fit nicely on the airplane tray table.

With an OtterBox case providing traction, the iPhone propped nicely against the seatback, leaving plenty of space for the keyboard and some notes. (See the below photo for a re-enactment of the in-flight workspace from back in the home office.)

In-Flight Productivity

The point of the whole exercise was to write up some blog entries and get them posted to RCPmag.com. The next step was to open Office2 Plus to create Word documents from scratch. To write the blog entries, I was referring to my written notes on the tray table, using Safari to look up various facts and using multi-tasking to copy and paste quotes from speech transcripts on the Web into my documents.

Once finished, the docs saved easily on the device in the Office2 Plus interface. The app also provided the option to e-mail the docs, making it easy to send each doc to other editors for editing and posting. When it came time to shut down this mobile office 3.5 hours later as the flight approached 10,000 feet, three new blog entries had popped up on RCPmag.com and the iPhone battery was still at 50 percent.

To quote the old Philips TV ad quoting the Beatles, "I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time."

Have an unusual in-flight productivity combination of your own? Share it below or at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 08, 2011 at 11:58 AM