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United Airlines, the largest airline in the world following its recent merger with Continental, announced that it will soon offer passengers satellite-based, in-flight internet access on more than 300 aircraft flying worldwide.
The airline, which will be the first US-based international carrier to offer wi-fi when flying across oceans, said installations will begin in 2012 and will be completed by 2015.
While in-flight wi-fi is becoming more commonplace on US carriers -- Alaska, AirTran, Delta and Virgin America to name a few – it has yet to reach transoceanic flights. The most popular wi-fi provider, Gogo, is currently dependent on a network of land-based antennae in North America. United has chosen to install satellite-based Panasonic Avionics Ku-band system.
Currently, there are more than 1,200 wi-fi equipped aircraft in the US, but only about 100 elsewhere in the world. The only other global airline to provide transoceanic internet access on such a large scale is Lufthansa, which offers its satellite-based FlyNet wi-fi product on 43 of its 98 long-haul aircraft. In the US, Southwest Airlines offers satellite-based internet access on a handful of domestic US flight via a system from Row 44.
United expects to install the Panasonic system on Airbus 319 and 320 and Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft, with the goal of equipping its entire mainline fleet by 2015. Details regarding the installation schedule and pricing are not yet available.
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Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel