United Airlines has announced a partnership with Verizon to provide domestic in-flight WiFi access. The FAA has already granted United permission to add the hardware to their aircraft, the last remaining hurdle is FCC approval which should come in the next several months. The FCC is due to hold an air-to-ground spectrum auction where service rights and frequencies will be awarded to WiFi service providers. The core question now is pricing, which has not yet been announced.
“Our research shows that connecting to the Internet is customers’ most preferred form of communication to the ground, and this certification is a crucial step to bring this in-flight wireless access to our customers,” said Dennis Cary, United’s senior vice president-Marketing. “We are thrilled by this accomplishment and proud to lead the industry in North America with Verizon Airfone in this endeavor.”
At the moment, United has only obtained FAA approval for using the equipment in their B757-200 fleet. Since very little equipment is needed though, FAA approval of the 802.11b/g network on other aircraft shouldn’t be much trouble. Once the FCC gives final approval, United will be able to ramp up the service to their customers very quickly. Depending how fast the FCC moves, United could be offering this searvice early next year.
While United did not release pricing figures, Lufthansa charges $29.95 for an entire International flight, or $9.95 for a half hour. Business travelers will certainly be ecstatic about this announcement. As great as the prospect of in-flight WiFi is, a serious question needs answering. Where can I plug in to charge my battery? And the answer better not be, buy a first class ticket.