The airport will offer free wireless Internet access by the end of the year in response to a chorus of complaints from fliers.
It's the No. 1 gripe among Twin Cities fliers: No free Wi-Fi at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
But local officials say relief is on the way. Later this year, fliers will get at least 30 minutes of online time for free in the terminals.
The move comes as smartphones, laptops and tablets become ever-more popular among travelers. Fliers want free Internet access to conduct business, update Facebook and tweet their next destination.
"I think it's getting very close to the point where no airport can charge for Wi-Fi," said Joe Brancatelli, editor of Joe Sent Me, a business travel website. "These people just think Wi-Fi is the air. They can't conceive of a place where there is no Wi-Fi and they don't want to pay for it."
The Metropolitan Airports Commission will select a wireless Internet vendor next month. Options include giving consumers at least 30 minutes of free Web time after they watch a short ad and charging fliers who want higher-speed connections.
The lack of free Wi-Fi has been the biggest complaint at MSP, said Bruce Rineer, manager of concessions and business development for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. The only time it didn't hold the top spot was shortly after McDonald's was removed from the airport, Rineer said.
Wi-Fi has since reclaimed its top position.
"It's one, if not the most talked about, items from our travelers' point of view," Rineer said. " We definitely want to provide that."
Many of the nation's airports already offer free Wi-Fi, including Denver, San Jose and Phoenix.
There are three companies vying for the contract: Concourse Communications Group, a subsidiary of Boingo Wireless Inc.; Miami-based Advanced Wireless Group and Eden Prairie-based DragNFly Wireless Inc. The new service will launch by the end of the year.
The airport currently works with Concourse Communications, which charges $7.95 a day for wireless Internet access.
The Airports Commission made $228,900 in sales from the Wi-Fi service last year, an 8 percent increase from 2010. The commission said it hopes to make at least as much money with the new Wi-Fi options.
Local fliers like 51-year-old Marti Nyman said they look forward to the free amenity. Most travelers are at MSP for less than an hour.
"It's a great idea. Everybody loves free," said Nyman, a Chanhassen businessman who flies twice a month to see clients. "I think it sends a message that the airport is becoming even more business-friendly."
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712