United Airlines Set To Offer Free WiFi

United Airlines is set to match rivals by offering passengers free WiFi in order to stay competitive.

United 737-900
United are set to be able to offer free internet to all passengers. Photo: United

What are the details?

According to aviation site, View From The Wing, the subject of connectivity was brought up during a recent financial results meeting with shareholders. At the meeting, CEO of United Scott Kirby discussed how they were investing in internet technology onboard the fleet to bring them in line with rivals Delta and American.

“… to get the system to a high enough level of reliability and bandwidth that we can make WiFi free for our customers.” Spoke Scott Kirby at the conference.

Currently United charges passengers to use the WiFi onboard, although their coverage is quite good as part of their international fleet (Specifically Airbus 319, Airbus 320, select Boeing 757-200, select 757-300, 767-300ER, 767-400ER, 777-200, 777-200ER, 777-300ER, 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10).

The current coverage of United’s international fleet. Their domestic fleet is significantly smaller. Photo: United.

It costs passengers $49 to subscribe to the service before flying for a month (US only), but video streaming services are unavailable. All types of video content from Netflix to Hulu to Youtube is not allowed onboard the aircraft, either for bandwidth or contract reasons. If a passenger flies a lot, they can actually buy a year’s subscription for world-wide flights for the handsome sum of $689 USD.

The complete United internet package. Photo: United

Some airlines in the US currently offer free WiFi onboard their aircraft, with others offering pay as you go or limited services.

  • JetBlue offers free WiFi to all passengers on board their aircraft
  • Southwest, Delta, and Alaska have free inflight messaging
  • Delta and American currently charge for internet onboard but are rumored to be able to give it away for free

As we have seen with luggage prices, as soon as one of the big three makes a move it is likely that the other two rivals will follow suit. With access to the internet being as desirable as it is, it is very likely that these airlines will follow each other as quickly as possible.

Why would they give it away for free?

A question that some commentators have asked is, why would an airline give internet away for free if they can charge for it?

Like text messages with mobile phones, at first companies charged for every usage. But just like text messages, the internet doesn’t really have any variable costs once it is installed. To clarify, if they are providing the service to one passenger onboard, it is not a substantial cost to increase that to all passengers onboard (Once the initial installation cost is paid)

For an airline to have the infrastructure to offer fast free internet to all customers but charge for it, sure they will make a dime, but they will eventually lose customers to rivals who offer it for free.

Delta buys 10% of Alitalia
Delta is yet to offer free unlimited wifi to all passengers on board their aircraft. Photo: Delta

As View From A Wing rightly points out, we are on the edge of an internet revolution with all airlines offering it for free. It’s just up to United, Delta or American to be the first.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.