Does United’s Wifi Make Planes Fly Faster?

I have a monthly inflight internet subscription for American Airlines flights, which means that when ticket price is close it’s actually cheaper to fly American since I don’t have to pay separately for internet. (At least until American brings on another wifi provider and splits their domestic fleet, then they’ll give up that advantage.)

However I still fly United semi-regularly (and also Southwest, and to a lesser extent Delta, Alaska, and Virgin America).

And one of the things that vexes me about United’s internet — and believe me it’s only one of the things — is that they seem to have a very odd sense of how fast their planes fly, or how far.

I took United Austin to Washington Dulles. That’s a flight of just under 1300 miles.

United’s wifi sign in will sell you internet on the flight, though, for 1540 miles. You might think that is enough distance to handle extra circling or irregular flight patterns avoiding weather or congested air traffic, but they sell internet based on time or full flight. And that’s the full flight option.

How long do you need internet for? Well, apparently 30 minutes of internet lasts 770 flight miles. So United Airlines flies 1540 miles per hour. Wow!

Apparently you’re going to slow the plane down a bit if you buy an hour’s worth of internet, because that will only last you 1080 miles (the pilots must get a message in the cockpit to ‘throttle back’ their speeds to 1080 miles per hour if you select this option).

However since the aircraft does not fly over six hundred miles per hour I think it’s fair to complain if you sign up for 30 minutes of internet and it doesn’t last over an hour — the length of time it will take to fly 770 miles.

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, 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. What are you talking about? The 30 minutes of internet costs either $4.99 or 770 United MileagePlus miles.

  2. Gary, I hope this is poor satire or you are just very jet-lagged — because this post makes no sense!

    United is charging you a certain amount of miles for internet service — not claiming that you are flying that many miles during the use of that service.

  3. Those are redemption rates if you want to use MileagePlus miles to pay for internet instead of $$, not the distance it covers.

  4. Gary and his far left mind. Not understanding basic English and trying to insult those who offend. Go take a long walk off a short jet way. HEHE 🙂

  5. Um, aren’t they offering to let you use miles to buy the internet access? Is this just a joke that went over my head?

  6. While this post does not make sense, except as weak satire, I do appreciate how cheap United Wifi is compared to GoGo on Alaska. I have had few problems with it. I think GoGo was $40 for a SEA-AUS flight. They call it “demand” pricing – I call it crap.

  7. If you’re looking for subjects to write about, how about the fact that people with Global Entry have now lost (at least in ATL) the expedited lane through customs. You now turn in your Global Entry form when they check your passport. From there on through the luggage terminal you’re on your own, no more special lane. This means that you still may be detained for further scrutiny, even with Global Entry. This is especially perilous if you’re a permanent resident.

  8. I think the humor was missed because the prices are very clear. If the word “use” wasn’t there, it the post would have had its intended humorous effect.

  9. The real take away from this chart, and worthy of the post, is that United is valuing their miles at ~$00.65 each!

  10. what’s got me is the mileage redemption rate… Delta has it pegged at 1 cent per mile when they want you to use skymiles as currency. UA values their miles as far less??

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