United Puts Wireless Internet on p.s.

Inflight Entertainment, United

American and Virgin America have wi-fi onboard, Delta is beginning installation, Alaska and Southwest are looking to do testing, and well, Continental is at least putting live TV on their planes. But United hadn’t done anything, until now. United will roll out wireless internet on its p.s. flights between New York/JFK and both San Francisco and Los Angeles in “the second half of this year.”

What took United so long to get in the game? They actually started off very early but then fell silent for a long time. I had completely forgotten about this, but spokesperson Robin Urbanski reminded me that back in June 2005, back when I still worked at United, the airline had its 757s certified by the FAA for wi-fi.

Once she mentioned it, the memories came flooding back. I remember thinking how great it would be, but that was three and a half years ago. Others have been at it for awhile, so why did they wait? Urbanski said, ” . . .we wanted to make sure we selected the right service provider that can offer us something that was most cost-effective and most importantly, reliable for our customers.”

So United really sat on the sideline on this one for a long time. They’ve finally now decided they’ve found the right mix of cost-effectiveness and reliability, I guess. But was something else at play here? Urbanski says no, but we all know the competition between United and American over the years has always been fierce. I still have to wonder if American’s addition of wi-fi to their transcontinental routes finally pushed United to act.

Either way, it will be harder for you to fly a plane between New York and LA/SF without internet than with it in the near future. That’s great news for everyone, but probably most of all for AirCell which has the contract with United, American, and Virgin America.

Will United put this on other airplanes as well? It’s unclear. The release simply says, “United and Aircell will assess customer feedback to determine additional rollout plans.” It’s sad to see that United took so long to get onboard here, especially considering their head start, but it’s nice to see it finally getting into gear.

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23 comments on “United Puts Wireless Internet on p.s.

  1. Is United really that late to the game? As you point out, most other carriers are starting or have limited installation–or still doing testing. Maybe United is slow relative to its initial interest (e.g., 757 certification), perhaps, but it’s not like everyone else has have onboard wifi for years. In some ways I’m surprised it’s taken all of these carriers so long to get on board with in-air internet–though I gather there are technology (and probably market) constraints.

  2. FBKSan – Considering that they were so early to get started, I do consider this late to the game. Remember, this is also only for its p.s. flights, so it’s not really aggressive. It’s still just a test.

    Benji – It will be $12.95 a flight regardless of how much your ticket cost or what class of service you’re in.

  3. Regarding late to the game for onboard products, where does NW come in? I can see letting the decrepit DC-9 fleet linger but why haven’t they put anything into their 319/320 or 757 fleets? Their A330 fleet has a nice product for int’l travel and 1st on the 747’s is decent, but nothing for the domestic/canada/mexico traveler. I recall a flight years ago on NW 757 with the old CRT tv’s hung from the ceiling. Now those are gone and they offer nothing. It makes one wonder if the whole merger/buyout was in the cards for longer than anyone is letting on as they have spent absolutely nothing for the passenger inside for a very long time.

  4. Last two times I flew p.s., the window frames and shades fell off/out during flight. I’d prefer to pay 12.95 per flight for an extra few minutes of maintenance inspections.

  5. A – Northwest was never able to justify spending money on amenities like television screens since they didn’t think passengers would pay for it. But this merger has been in progress for so long now, that they probably just passed on the wi-fi idea altogether. I’m guessing Delta will bring Northwest up to their standards, but that’s not clear. They may decide to do something different depending upon how much influence Northwest managers have.

  6. A- NW still has those CRT TV in their 757. Beside even though they haven’t spent a lot on domestic entertainment I think they kind of make up for it in service, which is better than some carriers domestic flights.

  7. I wrote to United years ago as they used to have it on their 777’s on International flights –they then took the service off for reasons that totally eluded me – about time United – Nick

  8. I’ve been on a couple of flights where Wi-fi was avail, and frankly I hated it. Can we not have ANYWHERE on the planet where we’re not connected.

    As an American living in Canada, I totally understand WHO Americans are, and their self-obsession with their own individual self-importance. But it just gags me every time I cross the border to see how many Americans are using Blue Tooth cell phones. WHO DO THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE? Attn: humans: we are just not that important. 24/7 connectivity is asinine.

    Today I flew a Hawker-Siddely aircraft (Air North : Yukon’s airline) into the Canadian Arctic region, and tonight I sleep above the Arctic Circle. Enroute we had almost zero amenities–not even overhead bins. We were permitted exactly 8 pounds of carry-on, otherwise we had to check our small bags. On board, I was served a small cup of ginger ale, and later a small muffin. There was no onboard TV, no entertainment of any kind. I watched out the window and was entertained for 2 hours by the dazzling landscape of one of the planet’s northermost land mass. Gorgeous, for sure, but no more so than the amazing landscape of America’s prairies, mountains, etc.

    And I slept for about an hour. I fear that with onboard Wi-fi, I would simply have worked and missed both my nap and the glorious landscape.

    Hopefully Americans (and all greedy followers) will one day get over all our silliness about being perpetually connected to a bunch of people who are really only concerned about themselves.

    Meanwhile, cheers airline fans.

  9. I think this is really neat. I just moved to Portland where I have Clear wireless internet (www.clear.com/?utm_source=bc) and my “Frequent” package includes 2GB of usage per month plus wireless service throughout the greater downtown Portland area for $40 a month. This is the first wireless service that I’ve had and I’m hooked. I don’t know how I ever lived without wireless and I’m glad that the airlines are catching up.

  10. @Nick — I don’t think United ever had WiFi. Some of its partners (ANA, LH) had it for a while (Connexion).

    @Cranky — how many Virgin America aircraft have WiFi these days?

  11. Oliver – I haven’t heard an update, but they must have a handful by now. The expectation was to have the fleet completed by April or May.

  12. Follow-up to my previous post:

    From Virgin America’s press release when they rolled out the first aircraft with WiFi:

    “The first Wi-Fi enabled plane (N638VA) can be tracked in real time via Google Maps at: http://wifitracker.virginamerica.com. During the beta period, the airline is encouraging its frequent fliers and Wi-Fi advisory board members to provide feedback on the service.”

    That URL redirects to the one I found via Google. Still, the information doesn’t quite make sense as you’d need three aircraft to fly the schedule, but then two of them would be doing very little flying today.

    On the bright side, Virgin America now (as of today) lets you buy inflight carbon offsets… all without WiFi :)

  13. How much would the charge be? Also, what does this mean for my iPhone? Would the applications still work?

    Carbon offsets eh? I have actually never flown Virgin but that is a pretty brilliant marketing move, especially if they are touted in-flight.

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