The Asterisk in American’s Big Boast About Inflight Wifi

Headlines blare “American Airlines offers satellite WiFi to its entire mainline fleet” and therefore “You Shouldn’t Have to Struggle for a Good Connection”.

I think it’s great that American Airlines has invested in faster satellite internet for most of its domestic narrowbody aircraft. Many customers don’t like that it’s been a package deal to go along with no seat back entertainment, with most passengers stuck streaming content to their phones with seat power still years off on many aircraft. Legacy US Airways A321s will have this by the end of 2020, and Airbus A320s by the end of 2021 because CEO Doug Parker “thought they could live with” not offering power to passengers.

However coverage of American Airlines completing its project to add satellite wifi to planes is being overclaimed.

  • MD80 aircraft, being retired this year, do not have satellite wifi.
  • Embraer E-190s, which are part of the mainline fleet, do not have satellite wifi. They are slated to leave the fleet in 2020.
  • Boeing 757s have a hodge podge of systems. Legacy American aircraft are equipped with Panasonic (slow) satellite internet, because these were intended as overwater aircraft. Some legacy US Airways planes have been given Gogo 2Ku, while others do not have internet at all. These aircraft are increasingly used as part of the domestic mainline fleet, for instance American sends Boeing 757s with flat seats up front New York JFK – Dallas Fort Worth.

American’s international fleet offers Panasonic satellite internet which, while beamed from a satellite, is excruciatingly slow and has been unusable across the Atlantic.

American Airlines is my primary choice of carrier domestically, and a big reason is the ability to do work on board at least if you’re in a first class seat thanks to fast wifi (there are too few Main Cabin Extra extra legroom seats and even those have been squeezed of legroom in the new domestic ‘Oasis’ configuration).

However it’s important to understand what product is being offered, and how it is not true that all domestic mainline flights not have fast satellite internet, just that American has finished installing fast satellite internet. Some planes won’t ever get it. And some planes have slow and unusable satellite internet.

Meanwhile regional jets will continue to offer slower air to ground internet. They aren’t large enough for the size radome satellite requires. However American’s two cabin regional jets — CR7s, CR9s, and ERJ-175s — should all have seat power by the end of this year, far in advance of legacy US Airways narrowbodies.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sour Grapes! If AA put Sat. WiFi on MD80’s you’d complain they wasted money. It make business sense to not spend millions of dollars on short haul, limited life aircraft. Also, the ERJ-190’s can’t be fitted with it and on smaller RJ’s with smaller passenger loads, the ground based systems are the only options at this time.

    Considering the mess that Kirby left AA in, the speed at which AA has trashed his plans and moved ahead with more customer positive changes is impressive. BTW, have you measured pitch on a DL A321 in standard economy. . .30 inches! Enough said.

  2. But still the satellite service is better than they hayes 300 baud modem connection that gogo offers

  3. The big * for me is that I won’t be flying on AA so it doesn’t really matter if there’s wifi or how fast it is.

  4. WiFi was not working on both legs of my round trip from LAX to LIH.

    Definitely not rolled out as advertised

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