While long hinted, United Airlines will debut a new wi-fi trial across many narrobowdy jets that will include both a complimentary messaging option plus paid high-speed premium wi-fi.

United Airlines Will Trial Premium Wi-Fi, Free Messaging

Between July 16th and 29th, United will conduct an onboard Wi-Fi test with multi-tiered options, including free messaging and a new premium option:

  • FREE: Ability to send IP-based messaging for free using apps such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat.

  • BASIC: Email and web browsing, social media and messaging

  • PREMIUM: Everything supported in basic, plus video and audio streaming, app downloads and updates and VPN access

This will be available on the following narrowbody jets:

  • Airbus

    • A319

  • Boeing

    • 737-900ER

    • 737 MAX9

    • 757-300

This is exciting news, to be sure. But it is not clear to me how United will actually make this work, as my understanding is that many aircraft without Viasat equipment is not equipped to offer streaming services.

While United has not made this news public, my sales tactic was always to underpromise and overdeliver. But like the rollout of the new Polaris hard product, I fear United may be setting itself up to overpromise and underdeliver.

But let’s see. A United spokesperson told me:

“We’ll let you know more details in the near future.”

Anecdotally, one passenger reported free basic-level internet for the entire plane on a Chicago – San Francisco flight earlier this week while another did so for Newark – San Francisco. In the past, United has said it hopes to one day offer free internet to all passengers. In these trials, United’s primary goal is likely testing consumer demand and seeing how the system handles it.

The free messaging trial is a repeat of a similar trial in April, though this time across more jet types.


United Airlines will trial free messaging as well as a new premium wi-fi option aboard four aircraft types from July 16 – 29th. Hopefully this will be a sign of what is to come across the United fleet in the months ahead.

image: United Airlines

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