MIAMI — As Delta Air Lines announces an upgrade to its inflight Wi-Fi service, AirwaysNews takes a look at the state of Wi-Fi among the top U.S. carriers. An analyst offers his thoughts on the inflight Wi-Fi options currently available and what the future looks like for airlines.
Andy Abramson is the CEO of Comunicano, a Del Rey, California-based communications company. He was also named Business Traveler of the Year for 2014 by Business Traveler magazine.
“In my view, Panasonic is offering the fastest and most complete Wi-Fi experience because their service is working globally,” said Abramson. “Right now, the Golden Eagle/Row44 offering is the weakest of the service offerings. The connection speeds and constant dropouts on Southwest flights indicate a lack of full nationwide coverage. That, and the fact that Southwest is still building out their fleet makes the offering the weakest.”
As the travel public has seen with hotel guests, especially the business traveler, a free model is a route to dissatisfaction, said Abramson. “Airlines and their inflight Wi-Fi providers need to learn from that lesson, and charge for tiered levels of service based on the needs of the flyer, not the desires of the airlines to make inflight Wi-Fi simply an amenity,” he said.
Delta’s upgraded Gogo Wi-Fi will allow customers to have faster broadband speeds and expanded coverage. It will also extend Wi-Fi access for customers traveling between the U. S. and Latin America or the Caribbean using satellite-based 2Ku upgrades. The satellite-based system will be installed on the following aircraft: Boeing 757-300; 757-200; 737-900ER; 737-800; and Airbus A319.
The carrier has Wi-Fi on all 255 of its two-class regional jets and 620 mainline jets. The international long-haul fleet of 75 jets is more than 40 percent complete, according to a company spokesperson.
American Airlines says it has domestic Gogo Wi-Fi on nearly all flights within the U.S. It also announced it is putting Wi-Fi to its new fleet of two-class regional jets. The carrier’s 777-300ER and select 777-200 planes are equipped with Panasonic’s Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi.
United Airlines has Wi-Fi on 100 percent of its A319s, A320s, 747-400s and its p.s. 757 fleets. For the rest of the fleet, inflight Wi-Fi completions are: 26 percent of its non-p.s. 757s; 10 percent of 767s; 3 percent of 737-700s; 71 percent of 737-800s; 66 percent of 777s; 21 percent of 787s; 11 percent of E170s; and 16 percent of E175s. It uses Panasonic for international flights, Thales for domestic flights and Gogo on its p.s. fleet and two-cabin regional jets.
Southwest Airlines uses Westlake Village, California-based Row 44 to provide its inflight Wi-Fi. All of the carrier’s Boeing 737-700s and -800s have Wi-Fi installed, according to a company spokesperson, which covers 75 percent of its fleet. Passengers on Wi-Fi-enabled flights have free access to 19 live channels and up to 75 episodes from television series.
JetBlue partnered with Carlsbad, California-based Exede Internet to power its free FlyFi inflight Wi-Fi network. The carrier has 205 aircraft and of these, it has 107 Airbus A320/321 equipped with Fly-Fi, with more being added each week, said a company spokesman. Virgin America provides Gogo Wi-Fi on its fleet of 53 Airbus A319s and A320s.
The future of inflight Wi-Fi will see faster and more reliable coverage, with global access coming to more of the airlines over the next two to three years, said Abramson. “Not only will it be for web surfing and email, but we’ll see more entertainment choices being delivered in tandem, opening the world up to greater choice in content when we’re in the air,” he said.