5 ways inflight wi-fi could improve

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It’s not here yet, but the promise of faster, more reliable in-flight wi-fi is on the horizon. We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out, but for now, here’s the news:

This month Gogo announced that it will roll out a new in-flight wi-fi product that will be 20 times faster than its original product, and six times faster than its upgraded ATG 4 system rolled out last year. The hybrid system (called GTO for “Ground to Orbit”) will use its existing ground-based network of antennae as well as a new satellite system.

Here's what's under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo's new "Ground to Orbit" wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what’s under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo’s new “Ground to Orbit” wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America will be the first airline to add the new system starting in late 2014. Gogo also powers in-flight wi-fi on Delta, American, US Airways and on United’s p.s. flights between California and JFK.

TIP for using Gogo: Did you know that if purchased during flight, a Gogo all-day pass now costs as much as $26? To get around that, you can by an all-day pass from the Gogo site in advance for just $14.

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JetBlue, which currently does not offer wi-fi, announced that it would start adding a fast new satellite-based system from ViaSat to its flights later this year. All its 180 planes could be wi-fi friendly by 2015.

In addition to internet access, Southwest’s satellite based system from Row 44 is now streaming live TV to passengers’ personal devices, free (for now at least). Row 44 is now on about 450 Southwest jets—about 80% of its fleet. The current cost for wi-fi is $8 per flight. Row 44 also provides wi-fi on Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will begin flying nonstop between Oakland and Oslo and Stockholm next summer.

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United is slowly rolling out a new satellite-only wi-fi system from Panasonic on select domestic and overseas flights. Currently it’s on about 60 A319 and A320 aircraft and 13 747s. Pricing is per segment and varies (from $4 to $20) based on flight length and connection speed. I was eager to give the new system a try on an SFO-SNA flight last week, but after a few system re-sets, flummoxed flight attendants said that it was inoperable on that flight.

Have you tried United’s new wi-fi system yet? Streamed live TV on Southwest? How did that go for you? Please leave your comments about inflight wi-fi below.

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Last week I attended the Airline Passenger Experience Expo in Anaheim—a very cool show for airline geeks. It’s a gathering of all the suppliers for everything on the inside of an airplane—from carpet and lights to seats, wi-fi systems and inflight catering. What a sight to behold!

My “aha moment” came when I saw a simple solution to a problem that likely frustrated millions of frequent travelers every day… how to keep your  smart phone or tablet standing up on the airline tray table. A company called Smart Tray International has patented a rather simple solution—carve a grove into the tray tabletop into which the tablet or smart phone can be inserted. Brilliant, simple solution.

And, since we are moving to a BYOD for “Bring Your Own Device” world when it comes to inflight entertainment, the idea’s especially prescient.

Would you use it? Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis


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  • BL

    Had a chance to try out the free DISH Network TV on SWA two weeks ago. It’s terribly out of sync and has a herky-jerky picture (think 15 fps instead of the normal 30 fps for regular video). The user interface leaves a lot to be desired. And if you’re using an Android tablet or phone, you’re out of luck because the stock browser won’t support Flash, which is required to use the Live TV video player. (Alternatives include downloading the Boat or Dolphin browsers for Android and installing the Flash plug-in. However, full-screening doesn’t work properly).

    On the upside, there are a number of shows available for free on-demand.

    But overall, I’ll take the good with the bad just to have some sort of entertainment on-board a SWA flight.

  • kahickey

    Just used the United inflight Wi-Fi roundtrip SFO-JFK. It worked great with Gogo (and with my iPass account to auto login). I didn’t stress the bandwidth as I was just doing some Google Docs and email. Have recently done the Southwest and it was slower. My child was using my iPad and even got some TV streaming working well (which made up for the old, single screen movie).
    Regarding that picture of the groove for the iPad. Really nice, BUT, the way people slam their seats back? You need a sensor to give you time to get your screen out of the way. My laptop somehow survived although it got caught by the seatback.

  • Don

    The challenges with Row44/SWA are well documented (a quick google search brings up dozens of pages lamenting the sad state of SWA wifi). It appears SWA is allocating most/all of the bandwidth to the TV service as it works flawlessly but the paid internet service almost NEVER works for me. I always buy it but typically cannot even load gmail. it’s so poor. SWA is quick to refund money when this happens as they are also very aware of the problem.

    The rapid percentage increase in GoGo prices is also disappointing. I think they are assuming people are on expense accounts and don’t have to justify cost but $25 for a mid-con or trans-con flight is expensive for the current state of the service. Hopefully the new faster service will come online shortly and at least somewhat justify the price increases.

  • flybizz777

    For flights over the Pacific or the Atlantic its worth it! I was on a wifi equip 747 from HNL-NRT UA879. I strolled through the main cabin and noticed it kept the passengers busy or occupied (for those who brought their tablets) and compensate for the lack of PTV or new IFE in the main cabin for the UA747’s…people are willing to pay for it no doubt!

  • DB

    That groove in the seat back tray seemed like genius until I thought about how hard it’s going to be to keep clean. Thinking about the sticky soda (or worse!) that could easily accumulate in it grosses me out. Unless they’ve solved the issue of keeping the groove clean, there’s no way I’m putting my device in it.

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing your experience. There was talk at the APEX conference about wifi one day being widespread and free onboard. We can always hope! — chris

  • Spysea

    I use GOGO most of the time on VX and UA, however since first using it in 2009 the price has almost doubled from $8.95 to $14 for a 24 hour pass purchased in advance …. I am not sure at what price folks will go back to reading a book or looking out the window , but I hope the pricing gets reasonable , the rate GOGO is going your looking at $20 a trans-con flight and $35 if purchased onboard???…….. not worth it… the service is just OK , sometimes it kicks you off sometimes and in that case I chatted with CS and was offered a discount for a future session …..

    I recently used ( tried to use ) the UA service traveling from SJD to SFO and it never worked, over MEX and over the USA ….. , the FA made it clear in an announcement that they have nothing to do with the service and please do not ask them questions regarding United Wifi …. sounds like a work in progress …..

    Flying UA PS service and I will see how it works tomorrow

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    thanks, JR… interesting to hear given that SWA’s Row 44 product is satellite bases and supposedly faster. I’ve not had a chance to log on on SWA yet. — chris

  • JR

    I’m a SWA A list preferred customer. i love having WiFi on almost every flight, but it’s considerably slower than GoGo’s can be. I used GoGo on an overnight to JFK and was stunned how quick it was. On the way home yesterday (530p ET departure), I was online the entire flight and I think it was even slower than SW normally is. Lots more people logged in.