United Airlines Introduces Satellite Wi-Fi to Fleet Among Other Improvements

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Although for the past couple of years it has lagged behind competitors – most notably Delta – in installing WiFi on much of its fleet, United has introduced onboard satellite-based WiFi internet connectivity on the first of its international widebody aircraft, becoming the first U.S.-based international carrier to offer customers the ability to stay connected while traveling on long-haul overseas routes.

The aircraft, a Boeing 747 outfitted with Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s Ku-band satellite technology, serves both transatlantic and transpacific routes.

Additionally, United has outfitted Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi on two Airbus 319 aircraft serving domestic routes, offering customers faster inflight Internet service than air-to-ground technology (ATG) like Gogo. The company expects to complete installation of satellite-based Wi-Fi on 300 mainline aircraft by the end of 2013. Eventually, this service will be available on all the airline’s Airbus 319 and 320 aircraft, as well as on its Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft (when they are no longer grounded!).

United is adding satellite wifi service.
United is adding satellite WiFi service.

Customers have the choice of two speeds: Standard, priced between $3.99 and $14.99 depending on the duration of flight; and Accelerated, priced  between $5.99 and $19.99 and offering faster download speeds than Standard.

I used satellite WiFi for the first time this summer while flying on Lufthansa from Dusseldorf to Chicago and found it to be surprisingly fast and reliable, though expensive at 19 euros ($25) for the 9-hour flight. I also purchased wifi in a recent Chicago to Tokyo flight on Japan Airlines and it was a little slower, but still pretty good. As I travel more and more and farther and farther, the ability to stay in touch on those long-haul overseas flights seems more and more imperative, and I’m glad it’s finally starting to become available more frequently.

If you’ve watched the pre-safety video on a United flight  lately, then you’ve heard CEO Jeff Smisek mention that in addition to satellite WiFi United is upgrading its fleet with more than $550 million in improvements. The additional onboard offerings will include:

  • Operating the world’s largest fleet of aircraft with flat-bed seats, with more than 175 aircraft with 180-degree flat beds in premium cabins once the airline completes the installation in the second quarter of 2013.
  • Expanding extra-legroom Economy Plus seating to provide the most such seating of any U.S. carrier.
  • Revamping the transcontinental “p.s.” fleet of airplanes that fly between New York Kennedy and Los Angeles and San Francisco, offering an improved premium cabin with fully flat beds, Wi-Fi Internet service, and personal on-demand entertainment at every seat.
  • Improving inflight entertainment options with streaming video content on the Boeing 747-400 fleet.
  • Retrofitting overhead bins on 152 Airbus aircraft, allowing for significantly greater storage of carry-on baggage.
United will soon operate the largest fleet with the most lie-flat seats.
United will soon operate the largest fleet with the most lie-flat seats.

Although I am an Executive Platinum on American and think of it as my main airline, I am tempted to start flying United more, since their miles are the most valuable (in my personal opinion). However, I’ve had a number of awful customer service and technology experiences with United and until they can demonstrate at a minimum of mediocre customer service for their elite flyers, I won’t waste my time actually flying on their planes. Instead, I’ll enjoy the great customer service I get as an Executive Platinum on American (while not perfect, leagues ahead of United) and rack up United miles via Chase Ultimate Rewards cards.

Ink Plus® Business Credit Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Rating
N/A 15.49%-19.49% Variable $95 See Terms Excellent Credit