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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 for passengers. “Project Oasis,” for example, is squeezing legroom on more than 500 domestic aircraft. And AA’s newest planes don’t have inflight entertainment screens and feature very small bathrooms in economy.

However, AA isn’t spending billions just to make economy worse. It’s added a true premium economy cabin to 124 international aircraft; opening new — and quite impressive — Flagship Lounges; and has ditched slow, ground-based Gogo internet for satellite-based Wi-Fi across almost all of its mainline fleet.

In just under two years, American has added high-speed, satellite-based Wi-Fi to 736 aircraft. More than 500 of those installations occurred in just 11 months, between July 2018 through June 2019. That’s particularly impressive when you consider that each of these installations required pulling the aircraft from service for days to add the necessary hardware. So, this was a very costly retrofit program in both cost and aircraft out-of-service time.

But now, that investment is paying off for American Airlines passengers. With the retrofit process complete, there are now more than 900 mainline aircraft with satellite-based Wi-Fi and a dozen channels of live TV.

Across AA’s entire mainline fleet, only the MD-80s, Embraer E190s and five Boeing 757s (N202UW, N206UW, N207UW, N938UW and N939UW) weren’t pulled for the retrofit. That’s because the remaining MD-80s will be shipped to the desert on Sept. 4, and the E190s are scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2020. And those 757s? They were supposed to be retired by the end of 2019, but are now being kept into 2021.

Here’s the current state of American Airlines’ Wi-Fi as of August 2019 by aircraft type:

Aircraft Satellite-based Wi-Fi (fast) Ground-based Wi-Fi (slow) Total Fleet
A319 ex-US Airways 93 93
A319 Legacy AA (LAA) 32 32
A319 ex-Frontier 5 5
A320 48 48
A321 219 219
A321neo 6 6
A332 15 15
A333 9 9
B738 304 304
B738 MAX [grounded] 24 24
B757 29 5 ^ 34
B763 21 21
B772 47 47
B773 20 20
B788 20 20
B789 22 22
E190 20 * 20
MD80 28 * 28
Total 914 53 967

^Aircraft to be retired in 2021.
*Aircraft to be retired in 2019 and 2020.

Panasonic

Panasonic is the easiest internet subscription plan to understand, as American Airlines has installed satellite-based Panasonic Wi-Fi on all its widebody and international aircraft. This includes all:

According to an American Airlines spokesperson, some aircraft are enabled with gate-to-gate connection now (757s, 767s and A330s), some are in the process of receiving gate-to-gate connectivity (772s) and some aren’t there quite yet (773s and 787s).

Pricing is identical on every flight, whether that’s two hours from Dallas to Miami or 16 hours from Dallas to Hong Kong:

  • $12 for two hours
  • $17 for four hours
  • $19 for the entire flight

The downside to Panasonic is that it hasn’t proved to be the fastest or most reliable internet service provider. On TPG‘s 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 and a transpacific 787-9 flight that I was able to successfully petition for a refund.

ViaSat

In June 2016, American Airlines chose satellite-based internet provider ViaSat for its 737 MAX aircraft. Shortly thereafter, it decided on ViaSat to replace the ground-based Gogo internet found on much of its fleet. American Airlines completed this retrofit process in mid-June of 2019. Here are the aircraft where you’ll find ViaSat:

  • 32 Airbus A319 (legacy AA aircraft)
  • 219 Airbus A321
  • 6 Airbus A321neo (all aircraft delivered have ViaSat installed)
  • 304 Boeing 737-800
  • 24 Boeing 737 MAX 8 (grounded — all aircraft delivered have ViaSat installed)

On flights, I’ve found that AA is charging $12 for a one-hour pass and $16 for a full-flight pass — even if that’s a 6-hour or longer flight across the US:

Of the three providers (ViaSat, Panasonic and Gogo) I’ve had the best experience with ViaSat. The connection is available from gate to gate and the speeds are quick enough for productive work.

I tested the ViaSat connection on AA’s 737 MAX from New York-LGA 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 handful of domestic 737-800 flights. Even with numerous passengers online during a tech-heavy San Jose, CA (SJC) to Chicago (ORD) flight, the speeds were fast enough that I was able to work just as fast as I typically do on the ground.

Speedtest from a ViaSat-enabled flight from SJC-ORD on September 13, 2018
Speedtest from a ViaSat-enabled flight from SJC-ORD on Sept. 13, 2018

Gogo 2Ku

Perhaps in a hurry to get satellite-based internet on all of its aircraft as soon as possible, AA didn’t give ViaSat the entirety of its satellite-based Wi-Fi installation business. Instead, it also chose to work with Gogo to install its fastest 2Ku option on 146 of the airline’s legacy US Airways (“LUS”) domestic fleet. This contract seems to have been expanded to include the A319 aircraft its taken over from Frontier.

Here are the AA aircraft where you’ll find Gogo 2Ku installed:

  • 93 Airbus A319 (former US Airways aircraft)
  • 5 Airbus A319 (former Frontier aircraft)
  • 48 Airbus A320
  • 5 Boeing 757 (Hawaii fleet — the five other aircraft in this fleet won’t be retrofit, as these aircraft will soon be retired)

Although I actively avoid LUS aircraft, I flew a legacy US Air A319 from Charlotte (CLT) to Atlanta (ATL) on Jan. 1, 2019. Before taking off, I clocked some very quick download speeds. However the upload speeds were lagging:

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 speedy internet. Some travelers have reported clocking over 130Mbps on AA flights. Also, the connection is available from gate to gate.

How to Tell If Your Flight Has Wi-Fi

During the flight booking process, American Airlines previously shared whether a flight would have Wi-Fi. However, it was still a gamble whether that would mean slow, ground-based Gogo Wi-Fi or speedy satellite-based ViaSat or Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi. Starting in December 2018, American added a high-speed logo to indicate which aircraft have satellite-based Wi-Fi, which is different than the standard Wi-Fi logo.

With the completion of the retrofit project, that indicator seems to have been phased out. Now your AA reservation will only show whether or not your flight has Wi-Fi — which isn’t as helpful as almost all aircraft have at least some Wi-Fi.

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. The MD-80s are going to be retired on Sept. 4. Six of the 20 E190s will also be retired in 2019, with the remaining 14 retired in 2020.

Unfortunately, AA’s regional American Eagle carriers aren’t getting the same attention. Ground-based Gogo is going to continue to be the norm on these regional aircraft. Five Boeing 757s (N202UW, N206UW, N207UW, N938UW and N939UW) were also not eligible for the retrofit, as they will be retired.

How to Save on Wi-Fi

If you’re a frequent AA flyer, you’ll want to consider getting a Gogo monthly pass to save money — and the hassle of having to repurchase Wi-Fi for each flight. A monthly plan for AA Wi-Fi access currently costs $49.95 per month, or $59.95 per month if you want to be able to connect two devices at the same time.

I’ve been a Gogo subscriber for the past year and have rotated through different credit cards to see how the purchase codes. Here are the cards I’d recommend using:

Unfortunately, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Iberia Visa Signature Card only received 1x points per dollar.

The information for the Iberia Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

A perk added to the CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard in July 2018 is the 25% savings on inflight Wi-Fi purchases using all three of AA’s Wi-Fi providers (Panasonic, ViaSat, Gogo). There’s no promotion code needed for this discount. In my experience, you’ll be charged the full price up front and then get a credit for the 25% discount in under two weeks — a far cry from the “6 to 8 weeks after the transaction is posted” that’s listed in the terms and conditions.

As referenced above, this 25% discount even applies to monthly Gogo subscriptions:

Using Gogo Monthly Pass to Access ViaSat

Gogo monthly subscribers aren’t just limited to using their subscription on the 151 Gogo-installed aircraft. Through a partnership that AA brokered between Gogo and ViaSat, you can use your Gogo subscription to log into the Wi-Fi on all 585 aircraft installed with ViaSat.

On the right side of the Wi-Fi landing screen, there’s a 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.

Unfortunately for iPass subscribers, this ViaSat log-in option is only available to those with a Gogo subscription. An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed that, “at this time, iPass is only an option on Gogo and Panasonic aircraft.”

Bottom Line

While I’m quick to point out AA’s passenger-unfriendly changes and perplexing policies, American Airlines’ installation of fast, satellite-based Wi-Fi on its aircraft is one of the areas where it deserves credit.

AA has a drastically high percentage of its fleet equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi, for a whopping total of 914 aircraft. For travelers like me who value staying connected, that makes American Airlines a reliable go-to choice for staying connected while flying domestically. Now, it just needs to focus on its operational performance to make it reliable for business travel.

This post was originally published on July 20, 2018 and updated on Aug. 20, 2019 with the latest information.

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