United takes path of former Connexion partners to Aircell

Several years after withdrawing from now-defunct Connexion by Boeing’s satellite-based Internet project, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have all now turned to Aircell for air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity.

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United is the latest carrier to confirm it will bring Aircell’s Gogo Internet onboard, saying in a statement today that the service will be offered on 13 Boeing 757s flying transcontinental routes from New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We had a hint that an announcement was forthcoming.

Gogo will be available to United customers travelling in all classes of service for a flat fee of $12.95. “United and Aircell will assess customer feedback to determine additional rollout plans,” says the airline.

United’s decision to offer Gogo on its transcontinental 757s is strategic. Last summer American launched a trial of the service on 15 transcontinental Boeing 767-200s.

Gogo later went live on Virgin America and Delta, which have both agreed to fleetwide equipage. Air Canada is also an Aircell customer.

“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,” says United senior VP and chief customer officer Dennis Cary.

It’s a statement long professed by United but only now becoming a reality. In June 2001, Boeing teamed up with American, Delta and United to market its Connexion airborne Internet service under a joint business venture.

Each airline signed a letter of intent to take an undisclosed equity stake in the Connexion programme as well as to equip a total of 1,500 aircraft with the service.

But in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, all three carriers withdrew from the project in order to focus on core activities. Connexion was deployed on several international carriers but ultimately failed due to Boeing’s flawed business plan.

Since that time Aircell has been working diligently to bring its less-costly ATG offering to market. Thus far, the company has captured the lion’s share of business in the USA. However, some carriers like American and United have held back on announcing full-fledged, fleet-wide deals until they adequately trial the product.

“I can’t think of a better way for Aircell to usher in 2009 as the year of in-flight Internet than by announcing our partnership with United,” says Aircell president and CEO Jack Blumenstein.

Indeed, analysts are predicting that 2009 will be “a critical point” for in-flight connectivity. 

Some Ku band-based alternatives to Connexion are also making strides. California-based Row 44 has secured trial agreements with Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Although the tests have been delayed for some months, Row 44 expects them to begin this month. “Airline passenger trials are still on track, set to begin soon,” assures the firm.

ViaSat and Panasonic Avionics have also made known there intentions of bringing Ku band solutions to market.

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