United Airlines to offer in-flight internet service in second half of 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009, 16:23 by Aviation Correspondent

United Airlines, a subsidiary of UAL Corporation, based in the United States, is to offer in-flight internet service in its planes later in 2009.

The airline said in a statement that, using Aircell’s Gogo in-flight wireless internet service, passengers can use their Wi-Fi-enabled devices to surf the Web, check e-mail, access corporate VPNs, and chat over instant messaging services. (Gogo uses a network of ground towers to create a constant data link for airlines.)

The in-flight Wi-Fi service, costing $12.95, will be available to all classes of service, the airline said.

The connection speed, according to United Air Lines, should be “comparable to 3G data services from the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless.”

However, the in-flight Wi-Fi service will not allow VoIP calls.

United Airlines has its largest hub at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the United States. The carrier’s other hubs are at Denver International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. In addition, United Airlines has focus-city operations at Narita International Airport near Tokyo in Japan.

Dennis Cary, senior vice-president and chief customer officer for United Airlines, said in the statement that the carrier’s Wi-Fi service would start in the second half of 2009 on 13 Boeing 757 aircraft that fly between New York and California. The flights, equipped with Wi-Fi, would be between New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport or San Francisco International Airport. The airline would use customer feedback to determine if the service should be extended, Cary explained.

“We are investing in products and services that are most important to our customers, and having Wi-Fi access onboard is something that they have told us is key to making their flights more productive and enjoyable,” Dennis Cary was quoted by the media as saying.

Many owners of small business, Cary said, regard flying as lost time, “where they are unable to connect to the outside world.” Non-availability of the e-mail and internet facilities during flights reduces productivity and thus makes in-flight adjustments to schedules or presentations impossible. “United Airlines wants to change that,” Cary said.

At present, the United States-based carriers American Airlines, Delta, and Virgin America are offering in-flight wireless internet service to passengers.

American Airlines was the first US carrier to offer in-flight internet service, starting with the summer of 2008. Deutsche Lufthansa, the flag-carrier airline of Germany, has been experimenting with in-flight Wi-Fi since 2004.