American Airlines Figures Out How to Get Inflight Internet Exactly Wrong

American Airlines was the first Gogo inflight internet customer in 2008. Four years later most, but not all, mainline aircraft had the service.

They installed the air to ground service, and largely didn’t upgrade to newer generations of the technology. As a result on many planes it’s super slow.

Speed Test of Gogo Air-To-Ground Service on an Old MD80

The latest technology is satellite based and much faster. American is installing gogo’s satellite 2Ku service in 140 planes.

Speed Test of Gogo 2Ku Satellite Internet

American is also keeping ground-based gogo service on its regional jets. And their overwater planes have Panasonic internet.

Boeing 787 ‘Concept D’ Business Class

Over the summer American announced that they’d be buying ViaSat’s satellite internet service for new Boeing 737MAX aircraft which begin going into service in September 2017.

Now comes word that they’ll be replacing domestic mainline Gogo internet with ViaSat’s satellite service.

  • Installations won’t begin until summer 2017
  • It will take “years” to transition from slow older ground-based internet to faster satellite service.

American claims they’re using 3 different internet providers in order to “upgrade [their] fleet with the latest and fastest Wi-Fi service as quickly as possible.” That’s not credible.

  1. A timeframe of years isn’t ‘as quickly as possible’
  2. And would allow them to stick with a single or even just two providers

Moving quickly does mean taking aircraft out of service. But slow walking the change — like they appear to be slow-walking improvements to the legacy US Airways fleet, and to club lounges — means that for most customers most of the time reasonable inflight internet isn’t something they can expect in their travels.

And it means that like completely mismatched aircraft experiences between the legacy US Airways fleet (which largely lacks extra legroom coach seats, inflight entertainment, and power outlets) and the American Airlines fleet, customers will have different internet experiences as well. They have at least 6 different international business class seats as well.

Legacy US Airways Economy

In all likelihood there goes the value in my monthly American Airlines internet subscription. My flat $60 a month pays for all of the Gogo I use on American Airlines flights. It doesn’t get me international coverage, but as long as I’m not flying an international-configured plane on a domestic route I can be confident my plane will have internet and that I can use it for no extra charge.

Does my monthly subscription still make sense? Do I need a monthly subscription for each provider (if offered)? Or do I need to spend time buying one-off internet each time (which makes the internet much, much more expensive)? How many internet subscriptions will my finance department at work reimburse?

American needs to provide its customers with a seamless experience not just on a single trip, but across trips as well, for customers that choose to fly them every week. That means offering the same quality product each time, accessed in the same way.

Since I pay a monthly fee for unlimited internet, there’s a built-in cost advantage to flying American. If American and Southwest are the same price, the Southwest trip is going to be more expensive for me since I’ll spend about $30 more in internet. With American I won’t, since I’ve already paid a single fee for internet for the month. That makes it more likely I’ll buy the ticket from American.

Just as my American AAdvantage elite benefits create a lock-in, making American both more comfortable and a better deal for me than flying Delta, a single monthly internet plan creates lock-in because it means each time I choose to fly American it’s cheaper than flying a competing carrier (airfare plus one-off internet). American’s approach to internet is short-sighted both from a customer experience standpoint and from a customer value perspective.

American should be driving quickly to a fast, consistent solution — not taking years to get to a fragmented one.

Update: American tells me that their road map for inflight internet includes creating a “single sign-on” for the three providers. I’m not sure multiple logins is the key issue, and they’re not yet prepared to say whether there will be a single monthly plan that will be valid for Gogo, ViaSat, and Panasonic.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Not sure if you are aware of this (or if you blogged about it I must have missed it), but regarding hard/soft product fragmentation it is about to get worse… AA is taking ~30-40 legacy United CRJ-700s (Skywest) and they will only change two things:

    1. Exterior paint
    2. Seat cover and maybe covering any United logo

    Everything will remain the same which means 6 seats in first class, horrid slimlines with no headrests, etc. All of this because AA management dropped the ball with their recent decisions surrounding regionals. They lost a lot of capacity that they did not expect – I don’t buy that though – and this is their solution.

    Birds will be based in ORD.

  2. I think if AA were creative they could create an AA super monthly pass with all the providers on board. If.

  3. I think Doug Parker is the same CEO that made USAirways a joke when American West acquired it. In Philadelphia, USAirways was already disliked by the locals. When A-W acquired it, it became despised. Parker’s only real concern is the bottom line at any cost. He doesn’t care about the employees, and least of all, the customer experience. He should study Jerry Grindstein’s philosophy about transforming Delta, read “Rules of the Road”, and really learn a few lessons about how an airline can offer an excellent customer experience and still set records for operational performance and profit.

  4. @Golfingboy – But these are more or less replacing 50 seat one-cabin CR2s though right? So anything with F and Economy Plus is going to be a net upgrade…

  5. I hate hate hate airlines that slow walk product improvements. They want the PR for it now, but in reality it just confuses the hell out of the customers. If there’s one thing I hate doing, is trying to figure out which hard product is serving my route, and if a good one is scheduled, the likelihood of equipment swaps.

    Slight bit of apples-to-oranges comparison here, but if there’s one thing Cathay Pacific does right (and they do a lot of things right) it’s that they are consistent. They may not have the greatest hard product, but they have a solid one, and there are few games that are played with what you’re going to get.

    US domestic carriers? Crap, they think nothing of product inconsistency, and it kills me. Their branding and marketing people really need to get up their asses.

  6. @Gary, nope they are replacing the ex-Republic E-170s. When Republic went bankrupt after being unable to fulfill on its commitments (pilot shortage) they ended E-170 service with AA (38 birds IIRC) so in a matter of months all that capacity was lost. AA had to scramble and this is the solution. AA relocated those new ORD-based Republic E-175s to cities like DCA, LGA, and PHL to cover legacy E170 flights and now they are slowly working on refilling the E175 ORD hole, which is what those CR7s are for.

    The ex-UA CR7s are flying ORD-SLC, ORD-BWI, ORD-SAT, etc for AA. There are close to 10 of them in the fleet now I believe and will grow to at least 30. AA is not going to bother to harmonize the configuration and the hard product.

    P.S. I didn’t go into much detail about the blunders of AA management, but I’ll make one comment on this area. We all knew the regional sector was struggling with pilot shortage, particularly the standalone operators and AA management wanted to foster healthier competition (aka save $$$), so they basically broke up American Eagle (which was a massive operation). This giant shuffling of the AE/Envoy operation over to several different operators (remember pilots do not always go with the planes) along with a massive new orderbook (E175s/CR9s) with short term delivery targets (indicates rash decision making). With such a massive and aggressive shift in a business environment struggling with pilot shortage, someone was going to break and that happened to be Republic where AA is responsible for over 50% of Republic’s revenues. In the end, this whole agenda to outsource Envoy’s operation as fast as possible (sooner they can report savings the better) back fired on AA management with Repbulic’s bankruptcy. This stress is not only being felt on the Republic front, but AA has also temporarily halted the transition of ex-Envoy CR7s to PSA.

  7. @Golfingboy they’re taking 37 of these. There are a couple flying ex-LAX, and they’re doing some backfill for Mesa crew issues at PHX, but I do think the bulk will wind up ex-ORD replacing CR2s. There are pluses and minuses from a consumer standpoint but of course they aren’t harmonizing the product, they aren’t harmonizing product on LUS A321s 3 years into the merger. Because they don’t spend money on a consistent experience.

  8. Gogo has gotten more expensive and slower due to all the extra users on the monthly plan…. not saying the monthly plan is bad…. just it made the performance for me buying a single days internet so poor its not a good value proposition, One flight should not be higher than $12.00. I noticed that AA wanted 32.00 for a dfw-sfo flight… i ised a pass and the internet was crap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *