With each passing day, the moments when I'm disconnected from the Internet become fewer and fewer. For me, one of the last meaningful barriers began to fall with American Airlines' announcement last year that they would be offering in-flight wi-fi service. Though wi-fi is being offered by more airlines, there are still plenty of flight routes where Internet isn't an option, at least for now. And this poses a problem for those of us who get a lot of our work done online.

So what can you do the next time you're bracing yourself for that long flight? Well, we've been cooking up a feature in
Gmail Labs, our testing ground for Gmail features, that should help: offline Gmail. If you enable offline access, Gmail will load in your browser even when you don't have an Internet connection. You can read messages, star, label and archive them, compose new mail and more. Messages ready to be sent will wait in your Outbox until you're online again.

Remember, we're still working out kinks, which means you might see some issues that aren't completely ironed out. But this is a major step along the way. It's built on the Gears platform, which has already been used to offline-enable Google Docs, Google Reader, and a number of other third-party web applications.

So if you're feeling lucky, here's how to get started with offline Gmail:

  1. Sign in to Gmail and click 'Settings'.
  2. Click the 'Labs' tab and select 'Enable' next to 'Offline Gmail'.
  3. Click 'Save Changes.'
  4. In the upper righthand corner of your account, next to your username, there will be a new 'Offline' link. Click this link to start the offline synchronization process.

Standard Edition users can follow these instructions immediately, while Premier and Education Edition users will first need their domain admins to enable Gmail Labs from the Google Apps admin control panel.

Watch this overview video of offline Gmail:

Update, 2/3/09: We noticed that some people couldn't find the offline option in their Gmail Labs settings last week. To clarify, when we launch new features in Google Apps, we typically do a gradual release. Instead of making the new feature available to all Apps users at once, we make the new feature available to all Apps users over the course of a few days. This is what we did with the new offline option in Gmail, and we're happy to let you know that as of last Friday, this feature is now available to all Google Apps users who have Labs activated in their Gmail settings.Joyce Sohn, Google Apps Marketing Manager