United Airlines has joined the inflight Internet club with the start of wifi-equipped Boeing 747 services on its trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes.
Although there's no fixed schedule, the first jumbo fitted out for sky-high surfing will sometimes be seen on United's Sydney and Melbourne flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Travellers will have a choice of two speeds on the satellite service: 'Standard' will be priced between US$4 and US$15 "depending on the duration of flight", United tells us, while the zippier Accelerated connection will range from US$6 to US$20.
That said, United has yet to share exactly how fast these connections will run – all we know is that Accelerated is "three times faster than Standard".
Oh, and we know something else: that you may encounter slowdowns when your flight path takes you over the equator. That's the result of a coverage gap around the middle of the planet due to technical constraints caused by the angle of onboard antennas and the orbiting Ku-band satellites used by United.
It's not just the Boeing 747s that are getting wired. The same technology is being rolled out to United's existing fleet – it's already offered on two Airbus A319s seen on US domestic flights – including the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
The airline expects some 300 planes will be upgraded by year's end.
No streaming until late 2013
However, the promised installation of streaming technology to wirelessly beam movies and music throughout United's 747s won't arrive until much later this year – specifically in the US "fall", which means September-November, United Airlines tells us.
United's Boeing 747s which fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco still rely on a dozen ceiling-mounted screens for the economy and economy plus cabins (business class gets individual in-seat displays with video-on-demand).
The introduction of streaming wifi entertainment would have let passengers in the cheap seats enjoy United's inflight programming on their notebook, tablet or smartphone.
In late 2010 Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Airlines, admitted to Australian Business Traveller that "the back of the product on the 747 that United flies to Australia is not an acceptable level of product.”
“And I know that, I recognise that" he said. "But United on its own didn’t have the money to invest in that product. Now (with the United-Continental merger) it does, and we will.”
But not until the end of this year, it seems...