For many business travelers, in-flight Wi-Fi is essential. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Business travelers everywhere know that work doesn’t stop just because you’re on a plane. On a business trip there are emails to write, messages to answer, research to do, and last-minute meetings to set up. And for those business travel necessities, in-flight Wi-Fi is crucial.
Or is it? Gogo, a leading provider of in-flight Wi-Fi on U.S. air carriers, admits that only about 6 percent of passengers use the service when it’s available.
“More people say no to in-flight Wi-Fi than say no to drugs,” says business travel writer Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe.com. Brancatelli thinks the reason most passengers eschew Wi-Fi is the price (Gogo charges $16 for an all-day pass on U.S. flights). That’s especially true, he says, for younger fliers used to getting free Wi-Fi in public hot spots.
But there’s still a small but extremely loyal subset of business travelers — the workaholics who can’t stand to be unconnected for several hours — who swear by in-flight Wi-Fi. For this plugged-in group of business travelers, in-flight Wi-Fi is an indispensable, potentially life-saving tool for which they’ll gladly shell out a few extra bucks. “They can write it off as a business expense,” Brancatelli says.
Gogo is the Wi-Fi provider of choice for many domestic airlines, including Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)
Wi-Fi is more prevalent on domestic carriers, which often get their broadband capability via “Air-to-Ground” (ATG) networks, where antennas on the plane connect with cell phone towers on the ground. Many international carriers, and a growing number of U.S.-based airlines, incorporate satellite-based systems (either Ku-band or the more powerful Ka-band) where planes link up with orbiting satellites for their Internet connections.
And good news for the select few who depend on in-flight Wi-Fi: U.S. carriers are racing to expand, and in some cases upgrade, Wi-Fi connectivity on their domestic flights.
So where do the airlines stand in their Wi-Fi services? Here’s what some U.S.-based carriers tell Yahoo Travel about their Wi-Fi capabilities, present and future.
American is ramping up its Wi-Fi service. (Photo: American Airlines)
Wi-Fi Availability: ”American Airlines and US Airways have 832 of our 984 aircraft with Wi-Fi installed right now, with 15 of these aircraft serving international routes,” an airline spokesperson tells Yahoo Travel.
Provider: On domestic routes, American/US Airways use Gogo as their Wi-Fi provider. On American’s Boeing 777-300 international routes, the airline uses Panasonic’s Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi Future: An American Airlines spokesperson tells Yahoo Travel, “American is taking delivery of about two new aircraft a week and all of those will start service with in-flight Wi-Fi.”
Upgrading is the Wi-Fi priority at Virgin America. (Photo: Virgin America)
Wi-Fi Availability: Virgin America was the first and is still the only U.S. airline to have Wi-Fi connectivity on every domestic flight.
Wi-Fi Future: Now that it has 100 percent Wi-Fi connectivity, the airline is focusing on upgrading. “Over 80 percent of the airline’s fleet are already equipped with Gogo’s faster ATG-4 service,” a Virgin America spokesperson says about the provider’s enhanced Air-to-Ground network. “Virgin America will be the first airline to have fleetwide ATG-4 by fall 2014.”
The difference with JetBlue’s Wi-Fi service: People actually use it. (Photo: Flickr/Jeff Cutler)
Wi-Fi Availability: JetBlue’s Wi-Fi service, “Fly-Fi,” is unusually popular. “On JetBlue we see 40 percent of customers logged on, while other airlines get single digits only,” JetBlue’s Marty St. George said in a statement.
JetBlue’s Fly-Fi availability currently breaks down as such:
66 of 130 Airbus A320s
9 of 9 Airbus A321s
0 of 60 Embraer E-190s
Wi-Fi Future: JetBlue tells Yahoo Travel: “On Sunday [we took] delivery of our 200th plane (our 10th Fly-Fi equipped A321). We’re also installing Fly-Fi at a rate of 10-12 planes a month.” The airline plans to have Fly-Fi installed on its entire fleet by the end of 2015.
Most of United’s domestic planes have Wi-Fi. (Photo: United Airlines)
Wi-Fi Availability: A United spokesperson tells Yahoo Travel: “We offer Wi-Fi on about 330 mainline aircraft – about two-thirds of our domestic planes and about one-fifth of our international planes.”
Provider: “Gogo provides Wi-Fi on the 15 planes that fly our ‘Premium Service’ between New York JFK and Los Angeles and New York JFK and San Francisco. Our other equipped aircraft offer satellite Wi-Fi provided by either Panasonic or Thales Live TV.”
Wi-Fi Future: “We’ve upgraded all of our [Premium Service] aircraft to Gogo’s ATG-4 product. Our satellite systems are among the latest generation of satellite Wi-Fi systems.”
Southwest has an impressive percentage of Wi-Fi-capable planes. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)
Wi-Fi Availability: Southwest tells Yahoo Travel: “Nearly 80 percent of our fleet is Wi-Fi capable. Our Boeing 737 -700 and -800 series aircrafts are installed with the Wi-Fi capabilities.”
Provider: Global Eagle Entertainment provides Southwest’s Wi-Fi as well as its live television platform. Southwest notes its Wi-Fi speeds are faster than competitors because its live TV is delivered via satellite through a dedicated “pipe,” which helps free up bandwidth for Wi-Fi.
Delta is close to having 1,000 planes equipped with Wi-Fi. (Photo: Delta Airlines)
Wi-Fi Availability: Delta tells Yahoo Travel: “Delta has more than 590 domestic mainline aircraft and more than 270 Delta Connection 2-class regional jets equipped with Wi-Fi. Every 2-class domestic aircraft in the Delta and Delta Connection fleet is equipped with Wi-Fi.”
Provider: “Delta is already using Gogo’s ATG-4 technology for domestic Wi-Fi and Ku-band satellite-based service for our international aircraft.”
Wi-Fi Future: “Delta completed the installation of Wi-Fi on regional jets in 2012 and launched expansion of Wi-Fi to International aircraft in March 2014, which will be complete by 2015. When the installation of Wi-Fi on Delta’s international fleet is complete, more than 1,000 aircraft will offer in-flight connectivity for passengers.”