United takes Wi-Fi to the international skies, a first for a US airliner

Stream videos from space while flying over the Atlantic
Stream videos from space while flying over the Atlantic

United Airlines recently announced that it's starting to equip international flights with satellite-based Wi-Fi for passengers to stay connected during overseas flights.

The airline has now installed a Ku-band satellite receiver on a Boeing 747, offering Wi-Fi on both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights.

Two domestic Airbus 319 planes also received a Ku-band satellite upgrade, as United expects to continue rolling out satellite-based Wi-Fi to Airbus 319 and 320 domestic flights and international flights on its fleet of Boeing crafts.

In total, 300 of United's mainline domestic and international aircrafts will feature satellite-based Wi-Fi by the end of 2013.

Airborne internet on the rise

United is now the first U.S.-based airline to offer Wi-Fi service on overseas flights, catching up to German-based airline Lufthansa, which has offered overseas Wi-Fi on flights since late 2010.

Last year Delta announced it will also feature similar Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi on international flights starting in early 2013, though the airline has not yet launched its first flight carrying the service.

The Wi-Fi provided through a Ku-band satellite connection will be faster than the air-to-ground Wi-Fi currently offered on United domestic flights.

With a faster connection, United will give passengers tiered pricing for internet access. Depending on flight length, a standard connection will cost between $3.99 and $14.99 while accelerated speeds will be available between $5.99 and $19.99.

While the price may seem steep for longer flights, Wi-Fi on United domestic fights currently runs through internet provider Gogo, with subscriptions starting at $14.95 for a 24-hour pass.

For some though, any price to stay connected may start to look like a bargain when stuck on a plane for a dozen or more hours, whether that means sending off important work emails or streaming equally important television episodes to a notebook or tablet.