There’s a reason why aerial WiFi’s getting popular, with tests even by the rapidly expanding budget carrier Southwest Airlines in the works: Atrociously awful air travel. A Wall Street Journal article this week reports

Planes Are Faster and Navigation Better, but Airlines Are Padding Schedules Even More as Congestion Worsens

{snip} About a half-million U.S. flights arrived late last year, and this summer may see record levels of delays, officials say. Estimates peg the cost at roughly $6 billion a year for airlines and more than $9 billion a year for passengers in terms of the value of time lost. {snip} Many delays are now simply being incorporated into schedules, at high cost to consumers and airlines. Congestion at airports and in the sky have forced airlines to pad their schedules more than ever so flights have a better chance of arriving “on-time,” which the Department of Transportation defines as within 15 minutes of the airline’s scheduled arrival time. Flights now arrive technically “on-time,” but with 30 minutes or more of delay written into the flight plan.{snip}

Cause? The absolutely antique air navigation system, which hasn’t changed much since I was learning to fly in the Sixties, and was old then. Old School piloting flies along inflexible paths based on ground-based NAVAIDS (called Victor Airways and Jet Routes), leading to inefficient, circuitous routing through fixed “highways in the sky.” And, FAA technology for tracking planes in flight is correspondingly antique, but promised funding never arrives.

FAA’s voluntary Required Navigation Performance program allows flying much more directly, and is adopted by air carriers worldwide, from Alaska to Europe, where weather’s chronically bad and it’s unsafe to fly without dual onboard advanced navigation.

But, will this happen any time soon where you are? Not likely, so load a copy of a WiFi flights list into your notebook or Crackberry alongside other road warrior sites like Flyer Talk and USA Today’s Today In the Sky, as you fly the sluggish skies.

Do you plan your travel around WiFi, seeking out hot spots? Have you used WiFi in flight? And, how do you cope with record delays? Join the discussion.