Virgin America will soon have speedy internet. But don't expect it for free.

Don't expect free WiFi on Virgin America. Photo: Virgin America.

Don't expect free WiFi on Virgin America. Photo: Virgin America.

Virgin America will soon have some of the fastest internet in the sky - speedy enough to stream NetFlix or Amazon. But if you want the good stuff, you'll likely need to pay. 

"We are likely leaning toward a paid model rather than a sponsored model," Virgin America CEO David Cush told investment analysts this week. "We think with the product being this good, people are willing to pay for it."

JetBlue, of course, has gone the other direction, giving customers free Internet. JetBlue thinks it can make a profit by signing up companies to sponsor its WiFi.  Customers love that approach, though it's not clear if people actually go out of their way to book JetBlue just for the free WiFi. One analyst told me recently that travelers only look for price and schedule when they book.

"Everything after that is just nice to have," said the analyst, Douglas Quinby.

Virgin America's Cush is refreshing because he generally speaks his mind. In this case, he said there's no reason to give away internet.

"Look, we are not in the business of giving away things for free that people are willing to pay for," Cush said. "For the first several months it will be free for everyone on the airplane as we test it, but our strong preference is to find a way to monetize that and we think there is a way to do it on a fee basis."

One thing to remember is that Virgin America's speedy Internet is only going to be installed on the next 10 new planes that Airbus delivers. The existing 53 aircraft will continue to have Gogo's ATG4 system, which is generally not loved by passengers. It's expensive and slow. 

Cush says the airline knows the problems with the ATG4 system, which suggests that the rest of the fleet may soon get an upgrade. "We know that our network gets overwhelmed on certain high business routes such as Boston and New York," he said.