The seats aren’t the only thing getting upgraded as United Airlines refits the 757s in its p.s. fleet. That the 13 aircraft dedicated to flying between New York City‘s JFK airport and San Francisco or Los Angeles will be seeing new seats showing up in the coming months was previously announced, The upgrades to the gogo in-flight internet system were not previously disclosed. And they’re somewhat surprising.
The p.s. planes are the only portion of United’s fleet where in-flight connectivity is routinely offered (there is one other aircraft equipped, cycling through the system). These planes have been equipped with gogo since January 2009 and, four years in, they will be receiving an upgrade to the ATG-4 system which gogo is rolling out. ATG-4 leverages upgrades in the EV-DO communication spec and allows for peak speeds of up to 9.8 Mbit per aircraft.
So why is the move so surprising? Because they’re keeping gogo as a provider.
When United announced that they were going to equip their entire mainline fleet with connectivity only two providers were mentioned: LiveTV and Panasonic. The LiveTV solution will leverage the ViaSat Ka-band system which should be online this fall. The Panasonic solution leverages other satellites which are also mostly operational. And, according to one source, the airline was trying to get away from gogo as a provider due to limitations gogo placed on the user enrollment process and allowing multiple providers to share the customer.
There have also been rumors circulating that some p.s. aircraft might start to shift to other routes where there is a demand for more business class seats. The 757s flying between Newark and London, for example, have been suggested as aircraft which might benefit from having additional premium capacity. By installing a terrestrial connectivity solution the chances of that happening seem to be much, much lower now. Then again, gogo did just sign an agreement with AeroSat to be able to integrate Ku-band satellite service into their service so maybe that will happen if needed on these planes.
The press release indicates that this was an extension of the contract. That increases the questions around the move. Did United choose this path because the other solutions will not be ready in time? Renewing the contract might have been necessary to ensure that the p.s. fleet kept its connectivity. That would be a bad sign for the passengers anxiously awaiting the Panasonic system’s deployment on the rest of the fleet.
Plenty of questions, to be sure. At least the one answer we have – that the p.s. fleet connectivity is going to be uninterrupted and better than today – is a good one.