Wi-Fi on airplanes may be the single most important amenity to me. Since the service started rolling out on American Airlines just about a decade ago, I’ve found myself a frequent customer. Instead of being disconnected while flying, I could respond to e-mails and follow-up on projects. I could hit the ground running from a flight instead of wading through backlog.
United Airlines was late to adopt Wi-Fi but promised to up its game in the connectivity arms race. I was in the room when ex-CEO Jeff Smisek said that United had an advantage by being last. They had studied their competition and would roll out better, faster service.
United’s Wi-Fi service is faster than those first systems, when it works. Unfortunately, the service has been mired with issues. First, it took a long time to roll it out across the fleet. Now, they continue to have reliability issues. On roughly have of my flight I have a problem connecting to the internet. Last year I flew roughly 70 or 80 flights on United? That’s a lot of frustration.
One of the pain points was that United didn’t have any monthly subscription plans. From very early one, Gogo offered such plans on American and Delta. It’s a welcome time and money saver. And, it seems United has finally figured out how to get their various providers to play together and offer a monthly subscription pass. There are 4 tiers:
- $49 monthly for unlimited service in North America and Central America.
- $539 yearly for unlimited service in North America and Central America.
- $69 monthly for unlimited service worldwide.
- $689 yearly for unlimited service worldwide.
All packages are for United Airlines operated flights only. They are only for one connected device at a time. You’ll still need to switch between devices or purchase a second connection if necessary.
As an aside, I can also confirm these subscriptions work on the small sub-section of the fleet that’s powered by Gogo.
Is It Worth It?
Based on the prices I normally pay, you’ll need to fly United quite a bit to get your money’s worth. On shorter flights I see prices in the $5 to $8 range per segment. For example, Washington-Dulles to Buffalo. Longer flights like IAD-Denver range up to $15-ish a segment, with transcon flights edging close to $20.
Let’s say that domestic flights average $12 a segment. Your individual travel will impact this number, but it’s a good placeholder. That means you need 4 individual flights to break even on a monthly North American plan. Those same 4 flights would net you a $5 savings on the annual plan (about $45 a month).
The global plan would require at least 2 more flights to break even on a monthly basis, domestic or international.
The Final Two Pennies
These plans will likely only make sense for business travelers/road warriors. I connect on each and every flight I’m on. Well, in United’s case, try to connect on each flight. Even so, I’m sure there are months I don’t have 4 United flights. That’s especially the case in a time when travelers are more likely to be free agents, since loyalty programs don’t bind us as tightly to one airline. Still, I think I’ll come out ahead on an annual subscription.
When I used to primarily fly American I would frequently connect to get to my destination. More flights, more individual Wi-Fi purchases. With United out of IAD, I’m flying more nonstop, so less total planes.
Make sure you’re being honest on the math before buying a monthly or annual subscription. If you’re not committed to United for the entire year, definitely avoid the small savings on the annual plans.
Lastly, even though United warns you it could be up to 24 hours for your plan to activate, mine was ready to use immediately.
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