Grrrr: American Is Replacing Gogo Inflight Wifi With ViaSat

As I wrote about back in February, American has been considering dumping Gogo inflight wifi. This came after American filed a lawsuit against Gogo, saying they found a faster internet service. American’s contract with Gogo allowed them to renegotiate terms if another company offered better service, which seems to be what happened.

Wifi
An office with a view!

American said they were considering ViaSat as their new provider, which American claimed “materially improves on Gogo’s air-to-ground system.”

Gogo responded to the claim by saying that they believe that the 2Ku technology they are offering is the best in the market, and wanted to discuss installing it on American. For what it’s worth, this is the upgraded wifi option which Delta has selected.

Well, it looks like we now have an update on the Gogo & American situation. American will be dumping Gogo and replacing it with ViaSat inflight wifi starting with American’s Boeing 737 MAX fleet, which will be delivered starting in September 2017. Per the press release:

American Airlines has selected ViaSat Inc., a global broadband services and technology company, to outfit its new Boeing 737 MAX fleet with ViaSat’s in-flight internet service. The ViaSat in-flight internet service has been recognized with multiple industry awards for delivering the best performing, highest-quality and fastest in-flight internet experience. The service encourages higher passenger engagement per plane by offering an ‘at home’ internet experience when in-flight – with the ability to stream movies, videos, television and music, as well as surf the web, upload pictures to social media, email large files and more.

“We are delighted and honored to have the opportunity to work with American Airlines and help fulfill their goal of delivering the best in-flight Wi-Fi experience throughout their fleet. We believe we are now approaching the end of an era where passengers have paid very high prices for very slow connections. Our agreement highlights a significant initial step for American to deliver an onboard Wi-Fi experience every passenger will want to use.”

This solution will provide higher speed internet, hopefully at lower costs. What’s not known is whether existing planes will be refitted with ViaSat, and if so, at what pace that will occur. However, we do know it will be over a year until the first plane features ViaSat wifi.

Why am I unhappy about American installing an objectively better product? Because it means even more inconsistency in the onboard experience. I presently have a Gogo monthly pass, which means all my flights with Gogo wifi are covered.

Even if you don’t have a monthly Gogo pass, at the moment your best option is to purchase a 24 hour Gogo pass in advance, as it’s cheaper than what you can buy aboard.

Save-Money-Inflight-Wifi-1

But this is part of the overall issue I have with many airlines, and in particular American. I wish they’d realize that the best passenger experience isn’t just about always trying to have the best, but even more so about having something consistent. I want to know what to expect when I get on a plane, rather than just have a gamble at something decent.

We’ve just been through a merger, which as a passenger has been frustrating, as it has lead to so much inconsistency and unpredictability. Even several years into the merger, that’s still the case, as many planes don’t have Main Cabin Extra, and there are now six types of business class seats in the fleet.

Eventually those of us who have monthly Gogo passes or even buy a 24 hour Gogo pass won’t know which flights are covered, and will end up having to pay for ViaSat wifi on certain flights. With installation of ViaSat only starting late next year, who knows how many years it will be before the entire fleet has ViaSat wifi, or if the entire fleet will even get it.

How can I justify a monthly wifi membership when I have no clue how many planes will actually have Gogo that month?

This doesn’t even address the fact that American already uses a different wifi provider for their international flights (including their 777s and 787s). I’m generally a fan of that as I find the speeds to be good and appreciate that they charge flat rates (typically less than you’ll pay on a domestic flight), but it’s already frustrating for there to be two providers. Now American is adding a third.

AA-DFWPEK-Wifi

Is a bit of consistency too much to ask for?

Update: @AirlineFlyer points out that during the transition American could offer free ViaSat wifi to passengers, as JetBlue does, or could offer Gogo members free access, as Virgin America does. Only time will tell.

How do you guys feel — are you happy because a higher speed and hopefully cheaper wifi option will be selectively installed, or are you frustrated by the lack of consistency, and having to pay separately for two types of wifi?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. This is happening a year from now. A year plus. They could consolidate everything on one provider (VIASAT) by then. Until then, who knows. No need to stress and freak out about it.
    I was reading one of your posts from 2009. It was interesting. There, you reviewed a flight, and you encountered in flight wifi for the first time. You were very skeptical of it, saying you preferred the time aloft to disconnect. My how things have changed.

  2. Cost is the kryptonite of consistency. I would not be surprised if ViaSat came in and said that we can do it cheaper / give you more margin on the price of passes. If true, AA have a fiduciary responsibility to generate higher returns to their stakeholders. You may not be unique in having a grumble about this inconsistency, but I doubt that it would bother most passengers.

  3. @Lucky- Thanks for posting this – good to know. By the way, your “tip of the hat” link to View from the Wing links to one of your own reviews. 🙂

  4. @ Nobody in particular — Yes, and no, I don’t think it’s quite that straightforward. Sure, they have a fiduciary duty to deliver the highest return to their shareholders, but there are long term goals vs. short term goals. It’s not purely about the revenue they generate from inflight wifi, but more about the overall product they offer, and how that attracts business travelers.

  5. American is filled with a whole bunch of dumbasses that never truly consider the effect of their actions. They should just make for an easy transition and use Gogos new faster service instead of switching providers. Just like they chose the absolute garbage Zodiak seats in the 787 that aren’t exactly winning people over. All the decisions American make seems hollow minded

  6. I just want fast reliable WiFi when I travel, I don’t care who the company is as long as it’s fast. I also think for the prices that AA charges they could offer WiFi free for FC pax’s.

  7. It doesn’t personally impact me as work typically covers wifi but I’m a United flyer and even though United’s lack of consistency shouldn’t matter from a cost standpoint as they don’t offer monthly passes for their own wifi (they only use Gogo on their ERJ-170 flights), I hate how many different “versions” they have. The A320’s have a different wifi system than the 737’s and the ERJ’s use Gogo, then there’s a fourth system I’ve recently encountered on some (but not all) of their new 737-900ER’s. A320 wifi is typically flat fee per flight while the 737 service is typically tiered based on tier of wifi and you can select in 1 hour increments. It boggles my mind why they have such a fragmented offering…

  8. @ Lucky — agreed, but I suspect that quite a few business travellers have free Gogo as a side-benefit of having a particular Amex or via other means. Besides, do we know what routes a 737 MAX will go on? I doubt that it will be TATL or TPAC (or even North to South America) due to range restrictions, so no the *chance* of no wifi for 5-6 hours is probably unlikely to bother many pax. And who knows, complimentary ViaSat internet may be a benefit of EXP AA or a benefit of a card by the time it has spread out through the fleet.

  9. Its about $ it always is and you of all people shouldn’t be surprised by this. Airlines have been gouging us for years, this just confirms it. I dont use it when I fly but for someone like you I understand the frustration. I think the only answer now is to find an airline one can use for a particular flight that meets our requirements. I know others will disagree but the days of being loyal to one airline are over. Good report as always Ben why I read the blog

  10. Even if you don’t have a monthly Gogo pass, at the moment your best option is to purchase a 24 hour Gogo pass in advance, as it’s cheaper than what you can buy aboard.

    I wouldn’t say this is universally true. Alaska often has “buy 30 get 90” offers for $5 on short flights (Vegas/Bay Area/SoCal) that’s offered onboard. Considering that you lose time on both ends of the flight anyways, this is usually an OK deal.

    Now, for transcon LAX-JFK… buy beforehand or prepare to pay up.

  11. Competition is good. NoGo has been shafting is long enough with their garbage prices that never seem to stop increasing.

  12. Gogo won’t be going away – yet. 140 aircraft will be upgraded to the newest 2Ku satellite service, while the remaining ones using Gogo will remain on the ATG service.

    Consider this a bake off between services now with 3 players. It will be interesting to see if AA continues to allow providers to set pricing, or if they’ll eventually shift to a model where they pay based on bandwidth. Secondarily, shifting more than 150 aircraft to any sole provider would also challenge supply chains to get installs done in a reasonable window.

    If history shows us where AA’s priorities are:
    Delta has enabled perks like free movies and premium TV based on your seat # and validating this real time when streaming; AA hasn’t done this, and we have 737s and 319s with PTVs, and some with absolutely nothing and premium cabin customers forking over $5 to stream a movie.

  13. What good is a wifi pass for internet that’s so slow even basic browsing is impossible? The single 3G connection for the entire plane just doesn’t work…

  14. There should be a way that the AIRLINES can offer a higher-priced monthly subscription which covers wifi on all aircraft, irrespective of the system being used.

  15. There is no such thing as “Fiduciary Duty” regarding a Listed Co. ,shareholders are last to get their money in a bankruptcy. Ben is right when he mentions long term strategy. If it were simply shareholder value then Enron and other “Busts” would have gotten away it.Finally as Ben subtly suggested what if this decision ultimately causes the share price to decline,are company execs held accountable based on “Fiduciary duty”? No they aren’t.

  16. I also have a monthly gogo pass. Now that the airlines are moving to different solutions, my monthly pass is of much less utility. Did the airlines take this into account? Work together for interoperability and come up with a solution that puts passengers first.

  17. I flew on Saturday (MIA-DFW) and we were not able to use our gogo membership, we had to buy it during the flight ($12 for 2 hours, plus the $60 monthly)
    I agree with you, I would rather have consistency, even if it’s a little bit slower.
    Will definitely cancel gogoair.

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