The airline said it would turn to Aircell's Gogo in-flight wireless Internet service to let passengers use their Wi-Fi-enabled devices to surf the Web, check e-mail, access corporate VPNs, and chat over instant messaging services. The service will be priced at $12.95, and it will be available to all classes of service.
The connection speed should be comparable to 3G data services from the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Aircell said it installs on each plane an 800-GB server that caches content from recently accessed Internet addresses to speed up content delivery. There are no set bandwidth caps, but the service won't allow VoIP calls.
"We are investing in products and services that are most important to our customers, and having Wi-Fi access on board is something that they have told us is key to making their flights more productive and enjoyable," said Dennis Cary, senior VP and chief customer officer for United Airlines, in a statement.
United's Wi-Fi service will begin in the second half of this year on 13 Boeing 757 aircrafts that fly between New York and California. The flights will be between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport or San Francisco International Airport, and the airline will use customer feedback to determine if there should be further rollouts.
In-flight Wi-Fi has faced some turbulence in recent years, as Boeing's Connexion service was abandoned even after the company spent $1 billion to build it. But with the proliferation of Wi-Fi devices like laptops, the iPhone 3G, and BlackBerrys, consumer demand appears to be rising. Because of this, American, Delta, and Virgin America are also offering in-flight wireless Internet connection.