JOURNALISM ISN'T the best-paid job in the world, but it does have its occasional perks. Like a free beer now and again, a ticket to see The Stones, or even a trip overseas to interview a celebrity or room-test a new hotel. So when my editor recently told me I was being despatched to South Korea, I was overjoyed. My mind raced. Was it skiing down the Taebaek mountains? Hiking through Seoraksan National Park? Or sampling the delights of Korean cuisine in Seoul, perhaps? Not a dog in soup's chance. 'You're going to send an e-mail,' my boss informed me. Now, even an old Luddite like me knows it's a bit daft travelling more than 2,000km to send an e-mail. The days of carrier pigeons are long gone. But, as I soon found out, that wasn't the point. South Korea may as well have been Timbuktu for the purposes of this trip. My mission was to send an e-mail from the plane enroute. Inflight e-mail, apparently, is the next big thing in flying. Dissatisfied with video games, movies and music, passengers now want ground communication. In the hyper-connected 21st century we are so used to being a tap, tap, tap away from our friends, colleagues and clients that being incommunicado for a few hours is just too unbearable to contemplate. According to Cathay Pacific 80 per cent of travellers polled want inflight e-mail, so the airline has answered their call by fitting two-thirds of its fleet - 53 aircraft - with the technology, in partnership with PCCW Netvigator and Tenzing Communications. The remainder of the fleet will be completed by mid 2004, enabling first, business and the first few rows of economy class passengers to join the newest mile-high club. 'Corporations work us hard nowadays. We're not allowed to snooze on the plane any more,' says PCCW's Janice Lee after I turn up at Chek Lap Kok for the media test flight. With Tenzing's Michael Pinckney as my guide, and after a few glitches (like finding a place to stash the laptop when lunch arrives), I'm soon exchanging e-mails with my boss and working from the plane, when otherwise I would be dozing. Hooray for technology. It's a simple enough system even for the first-time user. Passengers plug in their laptop to the onboard power outlet, install software available from the flight crew and hook up a USB cable to a socket in the seat. They can then log on to a Netvigator, Hotmail or an AOL account and begin reading and sending mail. Web-based workplace e-mail accounts can also be accessed, meaning you can take your office with you. Compared to a terrestrial broadband connection the system's fairly slow. Messages are stored on an onboard server which sends them to a ground station via satellite every five to 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I am unable to get into my work account but using Hotmail and Netvigator accounts is no problem. The quickest reply from Quarry Bay to the sky over the East China Sea takes just eight minutes. Priced at $155 for unlimited use or $78 plus $4.70 per message, it's a reasonable service, especially on long-haul flights. Sending or opening any e-mails more than 2kb - about one page of information - or with attachments costs an extra $4.70 per kilobyte, which makes downloading a PowerPoint presentation rather expensive. But for a businessman in a crisis, it might be worth paying. The 2kb limit, however, proves more than enough for me. After an hour turnaround at Incheon airport on the outskirts of sunny Seoul, we head back and I immediately e-mail my editor. 'Seoul was great. Lovely airport. Have to write story. See you in four hours.' Then I fold the laptop, recline the chair and slip into a post-dinner slumber. If you want to get away from it all nowadays, the sky may no longer be the limit. But it is if you pull out the plug.