American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size and passenger traffic, has finished rolling out satellite-based broadband Wi-Fi to its entire mainline narrowbody fleet of more than 700 aircraft (that is, the Boing 737s and Airbus A319 and 320 that typically fly the company’s domestic routes). All of these satellite-equipped planes also offer access to 12 free channels of live TV that you can stream to your personal device, including on international flights where this hasn’t traditionally been an option.
Unless you are comfortably sitting in business class and sipping on your pre-departure champagne, modern air travel isn’t exactly a fun or relaxing experience, no matter the reason for your travel. If you need to get work done on a flight, though, having access to fast and reliable Wi-Fi can often make a huge difference.
Today’s announcement from American follows a similar announcement from last year, after the airline finishing bringing the same system to all of its widebody fleet. At this time last year, though, American had only brought this same system to a meager 13% of its narrowbody planes.
One thing worth noting is that it’s my understanding that American isn’t counting some of its oldest MD-83s in this tally. These will never get a Wi-Fi upgrade because they are currently being phased out for more modern jets.
As for the technology that powers all of this, American Airlines is betting on satellite-based systems that use either Gogo 2Ku or ViaSat Ka. Unlike some of the earlier ground-based systems, satellite systems have the obvious advantage of offering a larger coverage area (including over oceans) and more consistent connectivity. These new satellite-based systems also allow for significantly faster connections. Among American’s competitors, Delta is currently in the process of updating most of its fleet to satellite-based systems, too, while the situation at United remains a bit complicated.
“Elevating the travel experience is one of our top goals at American and we’ve been working hard to provide our customers with the same level of entertainment and connectivity options they enjoy in their own living rooms,” said Kurt Stache, senior vice president for Marketing, Loyalty and Sales for American. “In less than two years, we completed broadband internet installation on our entire mainline fleet and we will continue setting new standards in the industry to show our customers we value the time they spend with us.”
Soon, American will also bring power outlets to every seat in its mainline fleet, as well as its two-class regional fleet. Because American, just like most of its competitors, is also removing most of its in-seat entertainment systems in favor of personal device entertainment that is streamed to your phone or tablet, it is also now bringing tablet holders to most of its narrowbody fleet, as well.
Unlike some of its competitors, American doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi access to chat apps — or even free Wi-Fi in general. Still, if you are an American loyalist, you’ll be happy to see that the airline now offers a consistent Wi-Fi product that is clearly a step up from some of the legacy systems that are still in use by some of the other carriers.