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United adds Wi-Fi on international flights, even as it lags in domestic

Jan 15, 2013 5:08 pm

Skift Take

United’s been a big laggard on wi-fi on its domestic flights, but it is among the first in international satellite wi-fi, through Gogo.

— Rafat Ali

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United Airlines said Tuesday that it outfitted its first international widebody airplane with satellite-based Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, with plans to install the capability on 300 more aircraft this year.

The Chicago-based airline is far behind competitors in offering Wi-Fi on domestic flights. Delta Air Lines, for example, has Internet connectivity on all its mainline and regional aircraft, while United has had virtually none, except a few coast-to-coast flights. However, United says it is the first U.S. carrier to offer customers the ability to stay connected while traveling on long-haul overseas routes.

Satellite-based Wi-Fi allows passengers to be connected while flying over water, where there are no ground-based Wi-Fi towers, which most airlines use — many via the largest provider, Itasca-based Gogo.

The first United aircraft to get the new Wi-Fi capability is a Boeing 747, outfitted with Panasonic Avionics Corp.’s Ku-band satellite technology. It serves trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes.

Customers have the choice of two Internet speeds: standard, priced initially between $3.99 and $14.99 depending on the duration of flight, and accelerated, priced initially between $5.99 and $19.99 and offering faster download speeds, the airline said.

United said it will install satellite-based Wi-Fi on Airbus 319 and 320 aircraft and on Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. Passenger will be able to use their wireless devices such as laptops, smart phones and tablets to connect with Internet via an inflight hotspot.

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