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American Airlines is currently spending billions of dollars a year pushing a transformation of its product. Not all of these are positive improvements. “Project Oasis” is squeezing legroom on more than 500 domestic aircraft. Meanwhile, AA’s newest planes don’t have IFE screens and have very small bathrooms in economy.
However, AA isn’t spending $1.8 billion this year just to make economy worse. It’s in the process of adding a true premium economy cabin to all international aircraft, opening new (and quite impressive) Flagship Lounges and is ditching slow Gogo internet for satellite-based Wi-Fi. And, this Wi-Fi installation process isn’t a small task. When it’s complete by the end of June 2019, over 900 mainline aircraft will offer fast satellite-based Wi-Fi.
While AA has completed the process on all of its widebody and international aircraft, passengers are still frustrated with slow ground-based Gogo internet on its domestic fleet. And, that’s with good reason. In a recent presentation, AA showed it was only 13% complete with the narrowbody retrofit at the end of March:
So, TPG caught up with the team at American Airlines this week to see how the retrofit process is going. Here’s the current state of American Airlines’ Wi-Fi as of mid-July 2018:
Panasonic is the easiest of these internet subscription plans to understand, as American Airlines has installed satellite-based Panasonic Wi-Fi on all of its widebody and international aircraft. This includes all:
- 15 Airbus A330-200
- 9 Airbus A330-300
- 24 Boeing 757-200 used for international operations
- 24 Boeing 767-300
- 47 Boeing 777-200ER
- 20 Boeing 777-300ER
- 20 Boeing 787-8
- 16 Boeing 787-9
The downside is Panasonic hasn’t been the fastest or most reliable internet service provider. On TPG‘s recent review of AA’s Boeing 757 business class, speeds were a paltry 1.56Mbps to 2.8Mbps download and 0.1Mbps upload. Similarly, I experienced slow enough internet on a recent AA transatlantic A330 flight that I was able to successfully petition for a refund.
In June 2016, American Airlines chose satellite-based internet provider ViaSat for its 737 MAX aircraft. Shortly later, it decided on ViaSat to replace ground-based Gogo internet found on much of its fleet. Here’s how that retrofit stands as of mid-July 2018:
- Airbus A319 (legacy AA aircraft): 0 out of 32 (0%)
- Airbus A321: 38 out of 219 complete (17%)
- Boeing 737-800: 69 out of 304 complete (23%)
- Boeing 737 MAX 8: all 12 have been delivered with ViaSat installed (100%)
In January 2018, I tested the ViaSat connection on AA’s 737 MAX from NYC to Miami. While upload speeds weren’t the best, download speeds were excellent. And this test was done when ViaSat was still being made available to all passengers for free on these 737 MAX flights.
Since then, I’ve used ViaSat on a couple of domestic 737-800 flights. And speeds were fast enough that I didn’t even think to do a speed test. I was able to work just as fast as I typically do on the ground.
Perhaps in a hurry to get satellite-based internet on all of its aircraft as soon as possible, AA didn’t give ViaSat all of its satellite-based Wi-Fi installation business. Instead, it also chose to work with Gogo to install its fastest 2Ku option on 151 of the airline’s legacy-US Airways (“LUS”) domestic fleet:
- Airbus A319 (LUS aircraft): 51 out of 93 (55%)
- Airbus A320: 45 out of 48 complete (94%)
- Boeing 757 (Hawaii fleet): 4 out of 10 complete (40%)
We haven’t gotten a speedtest of these new Gogo 2Ku aircraft yet, as I actively avoid LUS aircraft. However, Gogo has told us that 2Ku and its upgraded modem is “capable of delivering up to 400Mbps” of bandwidth on each aircraft. While that speed is shared among all users on the aircraft, that’s enough for everyone connected to get a speedy connection. Some travelers have reported clocking over 130Mbps on AA flights.
Which Aircraft Aren’t Getting Wi-Fi
Of American Airlines’ mainline fleet, only the MD-80s and Embraer 190s aren’t included in this Wi-Fi installation project. And both of those aircraft types are supposed to be retired by the end of 2018.
Unfortunately, AA’s regional “American Eagle” carriers aren’t getting the same attention. Ground-based Gogo is going to continue to be the norm — if you get Wi-Fi at all.
Using Gogo Monthly Pass to Access ViaSat
AA’s 737 MAX aircraft were the first to be installed with ViaSat Wi-Fi. And, in order to keep from upsetting current Gogo subscribers, the airline waited until Gogo subscribers could utilize their plan on ViaSat before putting up the paywall on these 737 MAX aircraft. But, this solution isn’t just for the MAX. Travelers with a Gogo subscription can log into the Wi-Fi on all 119 (and counting) aircraft installed with ViaSat.
On a recent AA 737-800 flight, I got a chance to see for myself how this process worked. On the right side of the Wi-Fi landing screen, there’s a link to link for passengers who “Have a Gogo Subscription.” Clicking this prompts Gogo subscribers to log into their account to gain access to that flight’s ViaSat Wi-Fi.
While I’m quick to point out AA’s passenger-unfriendly changes and perplexing policies, American Airlines deserves recognition for how it’s improving in other aspects. Quick installation of fast satellite-based Wi-Fi on its aircraft is one of the areas where it deserves credit.
The airline has gone from only being 13% complete with its domestic Wi-Fi installation process at the end of March to over 30% complete in mid-May — accounting for more than one installation per day over that period. With nearly 500 aircraft to retrofit and a goal of finishing by the end of June 2019, it’s going to be retrofitting at least 10 aircraft per week for the next year. If you’re like me and value staying connected, you should start noticing much faster Wi-Fi on American Airlines aircraft.
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