For the past several months, Virgin America has been installing and testing a new satellite-based Wi-Fi system on 10 of its new A320s– and offering the service for free. Those tests have been successfully completed, and this month the airline will start charging for the faster in-flight Internet service, according to a Virgin America blog post.
Virgin said the tests of its new ViaSat satellite-based Wi-Fi found that it operates eight to 10 times faster than other in-flight systems, providing passengers with “speeds similar to what they have at home so they can stream everything from movies to TV shows, music and breaking news to their own devices.”
Effective this week, the Wi-Fi pricing on ViaSat-equipped A320s ranges from $4.99 for short flights (under two hours) to $17.99 for trips longer than five hours (e.g., transcontinental flights). Flights of two to three hours cost $7.99, three to four hours are $9.99 and four to five hour flights charge $13.99 for the fast Wi-Fi. For 5+ hour transcons, the fee will be $17.99. (That’s much cheaper than what you’ll pay for a standard buy-on-board Gogo pass for slower ground-based service, which now fetches over $50.)
Virgin America said Elevate Gold members will get free ViaSat Wi-Fi through the end of the year, and will get emails with promo codes for access. Since Gogo and ViaSat are separate companies with different platforms, holders of monthly or annual passes for Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi – which is on the rest of Virgin’s fleet – can also access the ViaSat service for free, but will receive emails with access codes. An announcement at the beginning of a flight will tell passengers whether their aircraft has the ViaSat service. Virgin America does not currently offer Wi-Fi on its Hawaii routes, but it’s expected some time this summer.
The airline has teamed up with LinkedIn to offer free “professional development” video tutorials from Lynda.com to all passengers on the ViaSat-equipped planes.
The new service raises competitive questions on some routes – i.e., how will Virgin’s satellite service compete against the free Fly-Fi high-speed service that JetBlue offers on its fleet, especially as JetBlue appeals to more transcon business travelers with the expansion of its Mint premium cabins?
Last fall, JetBlue finished installing the satellite-based Fly-Fi service on its entire Airbus fleet, and it expects to have it on all its E190s by this fall. And so far, the service remains free.
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