United launches free inflight messaging trial on select planes
Staying connected while flying with United might be getting much easier.
The Chicago-based carrier will pilot a free inflight messaging trial, giving select flyers the option to connect to various internet-based chat platforms without needing to purchase a Wi-Fi package.
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Only certain pre-downloaded apps are eligible for the pilot, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. The free messaging functionality excludes sending SMS texts, photos, videos, as well as web browsing.
Note that the pilot is limited to flights between April 12 and April 18 on a subset of Boeing 737-900ER aircraft. Specifically, it'll be available on what United dubs the "37K" variant, of which the carrier has more than 120 in its fleet. You can check the aircraft assigned to your route roughly two days before your flight using the United mobile app or website. Click on "amenities" and check if it lists "free messaging."
United's 737-900ER fleet is equipped with both Thales and ViaSat Wi-Fi satellites, and the free trial will work on both variants.
Connecting to the free messaging service takes just three easy steps, as follows:
- Join the United Wi-Fi network
- Go to unitedwifi.com
- Click on the "free messaging" option
United's positioning this pilot as a test that could be expanded depending on performance and feedback. The carrier confirmed that it's considering rolling this out more broadly, but that'll be based, in part, on the six-day trial.
Related: Which airlines offer free inflight messaging
Hopefully, United sees the value in expanding this service. After all, messaging uses limited bandwidth, so it shouldn't degrade the network performance for flyers who purchase an internet package. If you're on an eligible flight, be sure to fill out the post-flight survey with your experience.
A handful of major U.S. airlines, including Alaska, Delta and Southwest, already offer free messaging. JetBlue takes it up a notch with free gate-to-gate Wi-Fi, which, of course, supports messaging as well.