United Airlines is pressing forward with equipment installs to support global satellite connectivity as customer appetites for inflight Wi-Fi continue to grow exponentially.
United presently offers satellite-based Wi-Fi on 57 of its aircraft, said carrier CEO Jeff Smisek in a recent discussion with investors. United is splitting its connectivity offerings between Panasonic’s eXConnect supported by Ku-band satellites and LiveTv’s Ka-band-supported inflight connectivity. eXConnect will be featured on the carrier’s Boeing 747s, 757s, 777s, 787s and Airbus A320 family aircraft while Ka is being deployed on 200 domestic aircraft in the legacy Continental fleet.
“We’ll be installing global satellite-based Wi-Fi at a rate of over 25 aircraft per month for the remainder of the year,” said United CEO Jeff Smisek in a recent discussion with investors. “Towards the end of this year, we will begin installing streaming video on our satellite-based Wi-Fi, marking the start of our shift toward providing in-flight entertainment content for our customers to use on their own devices,” he adds.
Streaming video has been a part of United’s connectivity strategy for some time. Smisek previously said that owning the hardware to support inflight connectivity, purchasing the bandwidth and owning the Wi-Fi portal would allow United to “develop a comprehensive and dynamic pricing model for Wi-Fi and onboard streaming video”.
In addition to the introduction of streaming video by the end of the year, United is also planning to make mobile boarding pass scanning available at all its domestic airports by autumn, “and we’ll be the first network carrier to do so,” said United chief revenue officer Jim Compton.
Other product enhancements recently introduced by United include enhanced mobile apps for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry 10, says Compton. Amongst the improvements are “streamlined user interfaces and the first phase of new self-service functionality, which customers can use to manage their itinerary if a flight delay or cancellation should occur”, Compton explains.
Of course no discussion about passenger improvement is complete without an update on flat-bed seating, which is one of the most competitive product attributes in the market place today. “United is the only US carrier to offer flat-bed seats on every long-haul international flight from the continental US,” boasts Smisek. “With more than 7,100 flat-bed seats in the air.”
Not to be outdone, United’s rival Delta is working fast to catch-up, as its management says roughly 85% of the carrier’s international fleet will feature flat-bed seating by year-end. Highlighting one of the carrier’s product attributes worthy of bragging rights, Delta Ed Bastian recently declared the airline “will be the only carrier to offer audio/video on-demand at every seat on long-haul international flights”.