United Airlines quietly activates LiveTV-powered wifi on some 737s


A couple months back United Airlines acknowledged that they had begun installation of the LiveTV/ViaSat-powered Ka-band satellite wifi connectivity product on their 737 fleet. These planes were flying around with the hardware installed but the service was not activated. Now it appears that the service has been activated, without so much as a peep from the company. United’s PR team did not immediately respond to a request for comment but their Twitter group did confirm that the service is now active.

It is not entirely clear why the carrier was aiming to keep this news so quiet, particularly given that they are the last major carrier in the USA to deploy in-flight connectivity. Plus there’s the part where the performance of the system is the best flying today, making it the sort of service that typically would be aggressively publicized. And, given United’s “Friendly” ad campaign lately and the emphasis on info/technology friendly as one of the tenets there it would make even more sense to take pride in this milestone.

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And instead nothing. Maybe it is just a soft launch and they’re still working out the kinks in the system, but it definitely is powered on and running. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have it on one of my flights next week.

Note that previously I was tracking some aircraft believed to be receiving the system install. The tail numbers believed to be operational are:

  • N37462 entered INT 9 Oct — exited INT 30 Oct
  • N75429 entered INT 4 Nov — exited INT 21 Nov
  • N75426 entered INT 8 Nov — exited INT 3 Dec
  • N38451 entered INT 11 Nov — exited INT 11 Dec
  • N37413 entered INT 20 Nov — exited INT 14 Dec
  • N75425 entered INT 3 Dec — exited GSO 20 Dec
  • N75435 entered INT 4 Dec — exited INT 22 Dec

United has not confirmed these details and there are likely a dozen or more additional planes with the kit installed which are not yet known. Updates to be provided as they become available.

UPDATE [26 Feb 2:20pm EST]: United has confirmed that “10+” planes are flying with the system active today.

Another source suggests that tail numbers 425, 435 and 451 are active. Those are three of the planes which spent time at KINT for the retrofit so it seems reasonable to me to presume that the other planes with similar stops at that facility have the system as well. Additionally, I’ve heard from one passenger on a flight yesterday who saw the system active on N37422  (but not necessarily really working) and N75410 is reported as installed in the comments below.

On the pricing front it seems that the numbers are “experimental” right now as the company works to figure out the ideal profit point. Reported options were “$1/hr for mobile email/app access. $2/hour for full access” with purchases made in full hour block increments.

UPDATE [26 Feb 4:05pm EST]: I’ve now tracked down 20+ aircraft which appear to have the kit installed and confirmed that they have all visited KINT at some point in the past 3 months with a pause long enough to do the install. Here is that list.

  • 3408 – 25 Jan 14 – 10 days
  • 3410 – 29 Jan 14 – 15 days
  • 3411 – 15 Jan 14 – 17 days
  • 3412 – 10 Feb 14 – 11 days
  • 3413 – 14 Dec 13 – 24 days
  • 3414 – 30 Dec 13 – 19 days
  • 3415 – 10 Feb 14 – 12 days
  • 3419 – 04 Jan 14 – 15 days
  • 3420 – 31 Jan 14 – 14 days
  • 3421 – 07 Feb 14 – 13 days
  • 3422 – 17 Jan 14 – 13 days
  • 3423 – 09 Jan 14 – 18 days
  • 3425 – 20 Dec 13 – 17 days
  • 3426 – 03 Dec 13 – 25 days
  • 3429 – 21 Nov 13 – 17 days
  • 3435 – 22 Dec 13 – 18 days
  • 3443 – 03 Jan 14 – 21 days
  • 3444 – 04 Dec 13 – 17 days
  • 3445 – 15 Jan 14 – 13 days
  • 3451 – 11 Dec 14 – 30 days
  • 3454 – 19 Feb 13 – 13 days

Additionally, 3417 is reported to have the kit but does not appear to have taken a break in its flight history to get the install. And 3224 is a 737-800 which was used for the STC approval and which is now flying with the kit as well.

This system is based on the same hardware as the solution JetBlue is deploying on their fleet, a solution which is offering the fastest service in the sky today. That’s great news for passengers hoping to have something resembling true broadband in the sky. And the rest of the 200+ 737s should be converted soon enough.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

10 Comments

  1. N75410, a non-ER 739, had the Wi-Fi control panel installed when I flew it on February 10. The power, Wi-Fi, and satellite icons were all illuminated in green during the flight, but of course no Wi-Fi connection was available to customers. Still, that one can be added to your list as an aircraft where the hardware is installed, and possibly enabled at this point.

  2. If it works! Heard from internal sources that UA have chosen the cheapest products for the build out. Result: system cannot meet demands. Hopefully these are growing pains. Fingers crossed.

    1. You heard wrong.

      This same kit is installed and functional on JetBlue and working pretty well so far. I’ve used it a couple times with them and the reliability continues to improve.

  3. I was just on Ship #3410 and no sign of wifi–no decals, no SSID being broadcast, no announcement from the FAs. Grr.

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