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Flight attendants to get Wi-Fi credit machines

Word on the street is that at least one major American airline will begin equipping its flight attendants with wireless hand-held credit card machines in the next few weeks.

You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The person who wants to buy food or drink on the plane but who has nothing but a US$50 bill? How can he or she expect the flight attendant to count out the change or even have that kind of change?

Even more troubling, many passengers try to pay with international currency. Flight attendants are more than happy to do exchange-rate calculations in their head, but they can’t guarantee that the change they give in American dollars and cents is 100 percent accurate.

American Express is helping deploy a wireless credit-card machine to airlines. The tests were promising enough to convince the airline to put the device in the air this summer. You can hand over your credit or even your debit card, and the flight attendant can do a virtual swipe, allowing you to pay for that drink or that limp soggy salad at 30,000 feet without delving into your change purse.

It’s all about the money, of course. As airlines go to extreme measures to scrimp and save these days, they are looking for ways to bring in extra income as well. American Express chipped in for a large part of the initial expense, American Airlines says, and the airline hopes that increased flexibility in money acceptance options will result in more in-flight sales.

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