While I often seize the opportunity of air travel to enjoy a few hours of being serenely disconnected from all that’s happening on the ground, there are times when one simply must stay in touch. My recent flight from Seattle (SEA) to Chicago's O'Hare (ORD) to attend a funeral was one such occasion, so I was pleased to learn that United Airlines began installing United Wi-Fi on select airplanes in 2013.
Unlike competing service
GoGo, United’s Wi-Fi is satellite-based, while GoGo uses a
hybrid of satellite and ground-based cell phone technologies.
While United has installed
United Wi-Fi on 190 aircraft as of the date of this post, the airline also
offers GoGo service on all of its Boeing 757 aircraft on p.s.® premium service
transcontinental flights between New York (JFK) and both Los Angeles (LAX) and
San Francisco (SFO).
Pricing for both services
will vary based on the length of the flight. “The correct pricing for your
flight is displayed in the United Wi-Fi portal prior to purchase,” is the way
United’s FAQs about the United Wi-Fi service put it. My flight of a little less
than four hours was $9.99, which I judged to be quite reasonable. On the return
flight over the same route, the charge was inexplicably a dollar less, at
$8.99. By contrast, 90 minutes of GoGo access aboard a recent Alaska Airlines
flight between Seattle (SEA) and San Antonio (SAT) cost me $10, and that was
thanks to a “Buy 60 minutes, get 30 minutes free” special.
There are limitations with
both services, as one might conclude from the proviso that they do not support
video streaming or other high-bandwidth functions. Speed is somewhat limited
but generally fine for checking e-mail and cruising most websites. According to Speakeasy.net/speedtest, I got
about 0.6 Mbps download speed and 0.1 upload speed. Not lightning-fast, but pretty decent considering I was at 35,000
feet over southern Minnesota.
At present, a purchase of
United Wi-Fi allows passengers to access the Internet for the duration of a
single flight between two different cities. “In some cases, your trip may
require you to make a stopover between your origin and final destination,” the
FAQs said. “This is viewed as two different flights, even though you may have a
single flight number.”
In the future, United hopes
to offer additional options for its Wi-Fi product – possibly including daily,
weekly and/or monthly access.
For the time being, though,
that gives GoGo a slight advantage because it offers per-flight access, daily
passes, and two monthly passes: one for “your favorite airline” and another
“all-access pass” that works on any airline that offers GoGo. That could make
GoGo the more economical option for frequent fliers; however, you won’t have
the option to choose between GoGo and United Wi-Fi. If your aircraft is
equipped with Wi-Fi, it’ll be either one or the other, not both, so the point
is somewhat academic.
Regardless of those minor
differences, it’s nice to know such connectivity is available if you want or
need to stay in touch.
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