After a soft launch just before the new year United Airlines has officially announced their in-flight wifi solution. The carrier has one 747 and two A319s currently flying with the Panasonic-provided solution and expects to have 300 aircraft fitted by the end of the year. The Ku-band satellite solution allows United to provide global connectivity rather than be limited to terrestrial services like gogo requires. There will be two speed offerings available for customers and prices will vary based on the trip duration. The basic speed service will be priced initially between $3.99 and $14.99 depending on the duration of flight, while the higher speed service will be priced initially between $5.99 and $19.99. There are no specific details on the speeds or where the distance thresholds are for the different price bands; United did not respond to a request for more specifics on those details.
There is also a FAQ available covering the details of the service and offering some interesting insight into the policies. VoIP being officially blocked is not particularly surprising; whether they actually manage to do so or not will be a different question. There are a couple items on the FAQ which are actually pretty nice to see:
- Can I switch Internet access between devices or use Internet on multiple devices simultaneously?
- You can only use your purchased Internet access on one wireless device at a time, unless you purchase access twice using separate credentials. You may switch your Internet access between two or more devices if you included your MileagePlus account information when purchasing access. Guest access is not transferable between devices.
How much data can I download and upload? Usage is unlimited, but we may control usage to the extent that we need to in order to ensure that everyone who is connected to our network will have a good experience. These limitations will depend on the number of users simultaneously connected and how much bandwidth they are using. Does United Wi-Fi restrict what content I may view? United uses content filtering technology and policies as we deem appropriate to ensure the best possible inflight Internet experience for our passengers
The other interesting bit inferred from some of the FAQ questions and answers is that the company will have the ability to link WiFi usage to specific MileagePlus accounts. That’s not to say that they’re going to be monitoring purchases of flights on other airlines and penalizing passengers booking away from United but it does mean they can do things like offer discounts to certain elite tiers or offer comps to certain passengers from time to time rather easily. United has stated in the past that they want to be able to better control the purchase experience and it seems that they’ve built the infrastructure into the system to be able to do that quite nicely.
I’ve not yet been on one of the equipped planes and tracking them down isn’t particularly easy. I’m trying but not quite there yet. I am definitely looking forward to giving it a try.
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