You might remember that we got to fly United’s inaugural Boeing 787-10 stretch Dreamliner service from San Francisco to Newark a few weeks ago. There was all the new plane buzz you’d expect. But one feature that deserved its own special mention was the plane’s inflight entertainment system. It was redesigned from the ground up to include tons of new features, from a better moving maps for the #AvGeeks (including us!) to live news updates, a movie+map split-screen option, a favorites list, and a trippy “relax mode.” Plus, the folks at UA went out of their way to accommodate passengers with impaired vision and/or hearing.
Read on for our report with all the details about United’s new screens in the sky!
Inside the Gogo Network Operations Center – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
As a frequent flier, the novelty of in-flight internet has (mostly) worn off for me. After a full day of presentations, tours, and demonstrations at Gogo, I can promise you that I’ll never take it for granted again. Gogo invited me as part of a group of journalists from both the travel and tech sectors to take part in a day-long “all access” event at their headquarters, near Chicago O’Hare airport.
Gogo’s “Social Media Command Center” – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
Gogo is the largest provider of in-flight connectivity, with over 2,000 commercial planes equipped and 6,000 business jets. Originally known as Aircell (and a lot of equipment I saw still had that name on it), the company was founded in 1991 to provide in-flight telephone access. In 2008, Gogo launched in-flight broadband on their first commercial flight, and our lives as fliers has never been the same.
Qantas Airbus A380 landing at LAX.
Getting on a plane with-in the US that offers in-flight internet is not that rare anymore. Many airlines have their entire fleet outfitted and others are still in process. For some, having access to the internet for a flight that might only last a few hours is not a huge perk — yet, there is surely more demand for flights that are longer. Since most US-based in-flight internet makes use of cell towers on the ground, the service is not available for international flights. Satellite based systems are heavier, cost more and take longer to install. Because of this, we have not yet seen a many airlines that offer Wi-Fi on longer, international flights.
Even though there have been quite a few airlines that have announced their intent to provide satellite internet service, many have not followed through for one reason or another. One airline that is moving forward with long-haul internet is Qantas.
Qantas Airlines decided to use OnAir as their service provider and they currently have six of their Airbus A380 aircraft flying between Australia and the US configured to offer Wi-Fi on an eight week trial.
’œThe eight-week trial will give customers the opportunity to access the Internet in exactly the same way as a terrestrial Wi-Fi hotspot in which customers can pay with their credit card and surf the Internet, including the use of email,’ Qantas Executive Manager Customer Experience, Alison Webster, said.
Since this is a trial run, only passengers in premium cabins (first and business) will have the opportunity to try out the OnAir Wi-Fi. After the two months is up, Qantas, “will assess opportunities for the long-term application of Internet capabilities across its A380 fleet.”
Australian Business Traveler (AusBT) was able to get a first hand account on how the new Wi-Fi service works. They tell the story of Andrew Hazelton, who flew on February 29th and was given 35MB of bandwidth to use during his flight. That is not much, especially for a long flight and Hazelton told AusBT that he used all of his bandwidth quickly and he was not super impressed by the slow speed of the service. Of course, this is just a trial period and it is hoped that speeds will improve with time.
During the trial, the internet is free for first class and business class passengers and Qantas and OnAir are in process of figuring out how much they might want to charge for the service, if the trials are successful.
Besides testing satellite internet, Qantas is also working with aircraft based entertainment, accessed through Wi-Fi. The new service, called Q Streaming, allows customer to wirelessly connect to computers on the aircraft to access an array of in-flight entertainment options.
See a video played on the Q Streaming aircraft to let passengers know they are on a special aircraft
Passengers have high expectations and I feel that in the next year or so we will see more airlines adding the ability to access Wi-Fi on international flights. It might not be the best quality of service, but with additional development, we will all see quicker and cheaper options.
Image: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren