United debuts inflight Internet on Boeing 747s for Australia-US

By David Flynn, January 16 2013
United debuts inflight Internet on Boeing 747s for Australia-US

United Airlines has joined the inflight Internet club with the start of wifi-equipped Boeing 747 services on its trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes.

Although there's no fixed schedule, the first jumbo fitted out for sky-high surfing will sometimes be seen on United's Sydney and Melbourne flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Travellers will have a choice of two speeds on the satellite service: 'Standard' will be priced between US$4 and US$15 "depending on the duration of flight", United tells us, while the zippier Accelerated connection will range from US$6 to US$20.

That said, United has yet to share exactly how fast these connections will run – all we know is that Accelerated is "three times faster than Standard".

Oh, and we know something else: that you may encounter slowdowns when your flight path takes you over the equator. That's the result of a coverage gap around the middle of the planet due to technical constraints caused by the angle of onboard antennas and the orbiting Ku-band satellites used by United.

Read: Ku-band connectivity stakeholders make a point about antennas and the equator (APEX).

It's not just the Boeing 747s that are getting wired. The same technology is being rolled out to United's existing fleet – it's already offered on two Airbus A319s seen on US domestic flights – including the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The airline expects some 300 planes will be upgraded by year's end.

No streaming until late 2013

However, the promised installation of streaming technology to wirelessly beam movies and music throughout United's 747s won't arrive until much later this year – specifically in the US "fall", which means September-November, United Airlines tells us.

United's Boeing 747s which fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco still rely on a dozen ceiling-mounted screens for the economy and economy plus cabins (business class gets individual in-seat displays with video-on-demand).

The introduction of streaming wifi entertainment would have let passengers in the cheap seats enjoy United's inflight programming on their notebook, tablet or smartphone.

In late 2010 Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Airlines, admitted to Australian Business Traveller that "the back of the product on the 747 that United flies to Australia is not an acceptable level of product.”

“And I know that, I recognise that" he said. "But United on its own didn’t have the money to invest in that product. Now (with the United-Continental merger) it does, and we will.”

But not until the end of this year, it seems...


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 173

 Does this mean they are also introducing the inflight streaming of movies/tv shows that they were going to introduce for passengers with their own laptop/tablet devices?   Mainly for those passengers in Economy Class. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2540

That's previosuly been suggested by United but this morning's announcement made no reference to the streaming side - we've got that question in with UA PR and will of course report back once we hear anything useful!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2013

Total posts 6

Great.  Just what we need.  Being contactable H24, and no respite from those that think you should be available whenever they want you.  

02 Sep 2011

Total posts 16

Any word on which a/c is operating with WiFi (the 744s) - I am due to fly SFO-SYD on the 21st and am really hoping to be lucky...

18 Jan 2013

Total posts 1

Just to shed some light for those interested, I was on a flight from YSSY-->KSFO last week and the flight did indeed have WIFI. There were two options and I could use my MileagePlus account to pay. If you have a MilagePlus account it's way easier because you can sign in and out of internet for your multiple devices without paying again (if you're a mega nerd like me this is helpful).

Overall though I'd say it's a waste of time, it took me ages to get it working, was slow and dropped out often.. the equator stuff mentioned in this article is very true.. it dropped out for like 4 hours. I'd say save your money, enjoy the disconnection and peace, and United's amazing in flight team (jokes).

If you desperately need to Facebook, tweet or check email it's worth it, but be warned it is very unrealiable. 

They really need in seat power next or all these updates are completely useless.. hopefully VA starts YSSY->KSFO soon.

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