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United Airlines launches in-flight Wi-Fi

updated 06:00 pm EDT, Thu October 8, 2009

United Wi-Fi starts with 13 planes

United Airlines this week began deploying Wi-Fi on some of its flights. The rollout will at first cover longer flights between California and New York and should have 13 Boeing 757 planes in United's fleet offering Internet access by mid-November. Much as with similar approaches from Virgin and other airlines, the new approach is based on Aircell's Gogo technology and shares a 3G cellular connection (typically EVDO Revision A) with the entire cabin over a Wi-Fi hotspot in the plane itself.

All the proposed flights so far will be long-haul trips and so will use the higher end of Gogo's existing pricing plans. Those with notebooks or netbooks will pay $13 for access during the entire flight, while owners of iPhones and other handhelds pay $8 for the same period. Voice over IP remains off-limits as a consideration for other passengers.

Echoing the strategies of Delta and US Airways, United so far is using the service in trial form and will wait for feedback before it decides to bring Wi-Fi to all of its flights. [via Chicago Tribune]

By Electronista Staff


  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Jan 2007


    Silly wabbits.

    Bring free wifi to your flights and attract more riders, probably equalling any money you might receive from charging for wifi access. I'm not that addicted to network access, so if I "have" to fly those airlines, I'm not buying network access. I'd rather have a couple of special beverages instead. ;)

  1. andrewbw

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2001


    Sorry, doesn't work that way

    You're making a common mistake: "Give it away! You'll make it up on volume!" This is rarely true, and it definitely isn't true in a sector like the airline industry which relies on razor-thin margins. A couple dozen people buying wifi and one or two other add-ons (a $5 cocktail, a $50 second checked bag, in the case of United, a $39 Economy Plus seat, etc.) often makes the difference between a flight breaking even or losing money.

    You gain a whole new appreciation for the airline industry when you know a few people who work at the highest levels of airlines, especially those people who do things like set schedules and determining pricing spreads: The smallest mis-prediction can sink an entire quarter. It makes what Apple and other technology companies do to maintain healthy profits seem like a cakewalk.

  1. WiseWeasel

    Junior Member

    Joined: Apr 1999



    $13 for a few hours' worth of WiFi access is highway robbery. That might fly for business customers who need to get work done and get reimbursed by their company, but for everyone else, I would expect this service to go largely unused. On the plus side, I guess they're going to finally have to allow iPhones in Airplane mode, rather than saying that cell phones are prohibited regardless as they currently do.

  1. bjojade

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2007


    Margins aren't THAT thin.

    On an airplane with 200 people on it that paid $200 for a ticket, you are bringing in $40,000 in gross income on that flight. There is no way that margins are so thin that 10 people paying $8 for internet access on that flight is going to make a lick of difference.

    Why not charge $202 for the flight and give away internet service for free?

    I'd GLADLY fly the airline that gave better service and didn't make me feel like I'm being nickel and dimed every time I turn around. I'd pay 20% higher prices just to feel better about it.

  1. andrewbw

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2001


    comment title

    Bjojade, you haven't a clue what you're talking about. None. I don't talk smack about how things work in your industry, don't spout utter nonsense about mine.

    WTF is it about people on MacNN? Everyone's got an opinion, no one bothers to actually research what they're talking about.

  1. jvputten

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2001


    Aircell's Gogo technology

    Three days ago, Delta handed out cards for a free Gogo trial from Milwaukee to Atlanta, so I took one. I was excited to try it out, but unfortunately, the network didn't function properly, so no one had net access.

    High price + unstable network = No Sale.

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