US Airways Joins the WiFi Party

US Airways has been talking about doing something for inflight entertainment onboard ever since they pulled movies several months ago. Last week, they finally made a move. They’re introducing wireless internet access onboard via AirCell, but it’s only on a small piece of the fleet.

The plan is to make WiFi available on all A321 aircraft. They say they have 50 in the fleet, but I think there are only 40 as of today. It is, however, a fleet that has been rapidly expanding – there have been a few deliveries so far this year. The A321 is meant to be the workhorse for transcontinental flying going forward. That’s why it makes sense to have that fleet receive WiFi over others. Here’s the current map of where the planes are flying, courtesy of US Airways:

US Airways Wifi Flights

As you can see, these aircraft fly mostly on long haul routes, so WiFi is most helpful on these planes. Oh, there is one problem. US Airways has disabled the power ports on its domestic fleet, so you’ll need to bring some extra batteries. It’s annoying when an airline has no power ports onboard, but it’s doubly annoying when they actually turn them off. (The newest deliveries are coming in without the powerports installed at all.)

This is the first onboard inflight entertainment enhancement from US Airways in a long time, unless you count the reinstatement of free sodas and water as entertainment. (I don’t.) They have been talking about trying to put in seat video on board their fleet (pay per use), but at last check, the financing still wasn’t there for a project like that. Lots of people have been talking about whether US Airways has enough cash to survive (this seems like an annual ritual, whether true or not), so isn’t it surprising that they’d be spending money on the internet? I’m guessing AirCell is making them an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d imagine that US Airways is paying little or nothing to have this installed on the fleet, and that’s why they’ve moved forward. The name of the game is watching cash, and if US Airways had to shell out a lot, they just wouldn’t be doing this. They are smart about financial management over there, and any large cash outlay just isn’t going to happen without a good return. And I doubt this project would provide them with a good, tangible return. AirCell, on the other hand, wants to cement its status as the WiFi provider for the domestic world, so they might be willing to pay for this in exchange for collecting the revenues.

So, good news for those US Airways customers who have been bored by the lack of any sort of entertainment onboard those transcon flights. Now you’ll have internet. For now, it’ll probably be a crapshoot to find which flights have it and which don’t, but eventually they’ll have it displayed at usairways.com.

[Updated on 7/28 at 348p to fix wording around US Airways bringing back soda and water]

14 Responses to US Airways Joins the WiFi Party

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    Didn’t I read something lately about airlines are (or might) start removing IFE systems from aircraft to save the weight and maintenance cost? With so many short flights is there really time to get the full benefit of these systems? I can see transcon and international flights having them, but short haul I can see an airlines point to remove them.

    Wifi would be different as people want to check their email and stay connected no matter where they are, and that can be done quickly even on a short flight.

  2. Nate says:

    I’ve used this a few times on AirTran and its wonderful. The only red flag to all of this is the lack of legroom and ability to actually USE your laptop when someone in front of you reclines. I was in Biz on AirTran (row 2) and the person infront of me tried to recline, and it fell back on my laptop screen, when then ended up blocking him from further reclining their seat. I would assume that when fully reclined, I would not be able to use my laptop.

    I’ve watched as the America West management has dismantled most of the perks over at USAirways – and while they’re moving in the right direction, I think they should really turn those powerports back on. That’s one of the MAIN reasons I chose another airline when flying long haul is for that lil power plug.

  3. Wes says:

    Really dumb question here….. What do they accomplish by turning off the power ports?

  4. Ken says:

    Having the power ports removed or turned off saves the company money. If you have ever seen a seat row overhauled that had power ports you would understand. The cost of replacing the inop power ports is around $100.00 a piece. And you should see what people put in these things. If people acted more like people instead of animals maybe USairways would activate the power ports. However history shows otherwise.

  5. CF says:

    David SF – That was the idea behind US Airways removing WiFi – that and the fact that the royalties for showing movies can be pretty costly. WiFi on short flights isn’t that great. You can’t use your device below 10,000 feet, so you really need a flight around 2 hours to have enough time to make it worthwhile.

  6. David SF – The other reason airlines aren’t removing IFEs from parts of their fleet is fleet commonality. That 737-700 that did a short hop today, might be doing a long haul tomorrow. By not having differences in the fleet it makes the whole thing more flexible. But alas, there are tradeoffs with the fuel burn.

    USAirways is being really smart here by only putting it on a fleet of airplanes that will be flying longhaul.

    Of course the really short flights are flown by regional affiliates, so you’re lucky if you get a magazine for IFE.

    Oh, when are they bringing back the animated flip books for movies? (Re: I Love Lucy)

  7. I’m actually using GOGO on an American flight right now. The connection is great!

  8. Dan says:

    Crank,

    I’m going to bust your chops a little and ask for some consistency. Yesterday, you said Delta brining back some frequent flyer benefits that it had eliminated is a positive thing. Today, you say that US Airways bringing back something that they had eliminated (sodas) is not something you consider to be good. Why the difference? What gives? Either an airline bringing back a “benefit” that it used to have is a positive or its not ;)

  9. ttjoseph says:

    IMHO, perhaps US Airways is preparing for the day when WiFi availability will be considered necessary and standard industry-wide. People will expect (to be able to pay for) it, and any airline that doesn’t have it will be at a competitive disadvantage. Sort of like checked baggage today. If they can do it with minimal capital outlay, great.

  10. CF says:

    Dan – Fair point – I definitely didn’t write that as I had intended. I think by “onboard enhancement” I was trying to refer to “inflight entertainment” but clearly I blew that. My point was supposed to be that I didn’t consider the reinstatement of free water and soda to be inflight entertainment, but what was in my head definitely didn’t translate on to paper in this case. So I apologize – I’m fixing the post now, and you’re definitely right to demand consistency!

  11. Artie says:

    I have a Macbook. The battery (when it was brand new) used to last about 3-5 hours, depending on what I was doing. Watching a DVD meant I could get a good 3-4 hours max. Now that my computer is older, I can get a good solid hour, possibly hour and a half before battery is dead. I have no back-ups because, quite frankly, I’d rather not pay for/carry/have extra weight in my travel bag.

    Solution – plugs! And I don’t mean the stupid, adapter necessary kind. I mean regular plus, like some airlines like Virgin have figured out!

    Hey AA – listen up: I don’t fly US Airways for a multitude of reasons. But I do fly you often. There have been several flights where I would have shelled out the money for the GoGo service if you had normal plugs so that I knew my money would buy me more hours of internet than my computer battery can support. You sell earphones, perhaps consider renting adapters for your silly adapter plugs for a discount when we buy internet.

    And hey Cranky – loved your post on the NY Times about crappy flying. Although I must admit I also loved the lady under you who essentially opined that we all need to shut up and realize that flying is not all that bad (which I agree with). But anyway, congrats on being published in the NY Times!

  12. Steve says:

    Interesting that they’re using the A321 for transcons. I read somewhere that US has had to make numerous fuel stops in this bird; something to do with winds, the weight of the aircraft, etc. If anyone has any additional info on this, that’d be great.

  13. CF says:

    Artie – American is actually one of the best when it comes to power outlets. All the new 737s that are coming in have regular 110V outlets in every row. I think they’re testing that on 757s as well. So they are definitely ahead of the curve on this one. Continental does a decent job as well, but everyone else pretty much sucks, except for Virgin America, of course.

    Steve – I had heard that originally as well, but I haven’t seen many problems like that in recent times. It may just be an issue during the winter months when headwinds are strongest, but then that impacts most Airbus narrowbodies.

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