American now charges more to access Wi-Fi across multiple devices — what changed?
Onboard Wi-Fi is a near-ubiquitous option onboard the major U.S. airlines.
In recent years, American Airlines has installed high-speed, gate-to-gate Wi-Fi service for almost its entire mainline fleet. That's great news for travelers who wish to stay connected while in the air.
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American ditched slow, ground-based Gogo internet for satellite-based Wi-Fi on over 900 aircraft. However, because American decided to use three Wi-Fi providers — ViaSat, Gogo 2Ku and Panasonic — the process to sign up for and log in to the service has always been a bit clunky. ViaSat and Gogo 2Ku are found on narrow-body planes, while Panasonic is the Wi-Fi provider on wide-body aircraft typically used for long-haul international flights.
However, passengers just want a reliable Wi-Fi service, regardless of the provider. The good news is that American has launched a new portal to purchase Wi-Fi that helps to make the process more seamless by connecting your AAdvantage account.
However, there is a significant caveat to this Wi-Fi change if you want to log in on multiple devices — you'll have to pay more, and it's more difficult to access.
Related: Credit cards that offer in-flight Wi-Fi
New Wi-Fi interface
On American, you can purchase Wi-Fi on a per-session basis or on a monthly subscription basis. That latter option is particularly useful for business travelers and frequent flyers. In fact, you could purchase a monthly one- or two-device plan through Gogo and still use that on a ViaSat equipped aircraft.
For my own travels, I often purchased a single Wi-Fi session onboard and freely switched between staying connected on my laptop or my iPhone. While you would be kicked off one device if you logged in from another, the system would still allow you to do so.
Unfortunately, on a recent flight, that is no longer what I experienced.
Related: Why my loyalty to American looks to be paying off
Purchasing Wi-Fi now
Earlier this summer, American released a new sign-on portal when connecting to the onboard Wi-Fi for one-time sessions. The major difference is that American now manages the end-user experience and requires you to connect to your AAdvantage account.
While the payment is still processed through the particular Wi-Fi provider, the front-end and login are now streamlined and solely American-branded.
Related: What are the best credit cards for American flyers?
Your Wi-Fi session is tied to the device you use
However, the caveat to this better design is that your session is now tied to the specific device on which you purchased the one-time pass. That means you'll have to purchase another one-time session in order to access Wi-Fi on another device.
For instance, I initially purchased an $18 Wi-Fi flight pass on my laptop to get some work done. Later in the flight, I decided to sit back and use the Wi-Fi available on my phone instead. However, I was repeatedly prompted that only one device could be connected to my AAdvantage account at a time. To make matters worse, it wasn't immediately clear that you could even log in as a guest user and purchase another session.
An American Airlines representative told TPG that a passenger "can purchase an account on another device by logging in as a guest (or from another AAdvantage account) and purchasing a flight pass."
However, the good news is that American says a fix is coming. The spokesperson told TPG that the ability to log in to multiple devices through a single account will be available later this year.
Unfortunately, for the time being, that means you'll have to pay each time you want to connect on more than one device in-flight. For some of us that have been stuck on the ground for months and simply want to enjoy the view out the window, maybe that's not such bad news after all.