For months now we’ve known that Alaska Airlines intended to upgrade its inflight internet service to a faster solution. Now we finally know what that solution will be: Gogo‘s 2Ku kit will be installed on the Alaska Airlines fleet starting in 2018. The full mainline deployment will complete “by early 2020” according to the company’s announcement.
The upgraded service offers a massive increase in capacity for passengers – fast enough to load movies and other rich media content – and better coverage, too. The current Alaska Airlines route structure includes a ton of flights between the mainland and Hawaii. As the 2Ku service is installed these flights will finally be able to deliver connectivity to travelers thanks to the satellite-based service.
Switching to satellite also means gate-to-gate access to the service rather than only above 10,000 feet. Pricing details are yet to be announced but “guests can expect that prices will be lower than they are today for ATG service, with options available such as hourly and daily rates,” according to the carrier. Gogo initially priced all 2Ku flights at a flat rate of $9.95 though that has since fallen by the wayside as more (and more expensive) options were introduced.
— Two If By Air (@twoifbyair) July 29, 2017
“We conducted an extensive review to find a satellite Wi-Fi solution that will allow us to give our guests full coverage across our route map, including in the state of Alaska and on flights to Hawaii,” said Andrew Harrison, chief commercial officer for Alaska Airlines. “Our guests will soon be able to connect in the air just as they do out and about on the ground. This makes traveling more relaxing as well as productive – whether you’re scrolling through Facebook, checking email, or watching what’s trending on YouTube.”
The fact that Alaska Airlines specifically mentions pricing and that the release states the carrier will reveal the numbers speaks to the continued shift in the way Gogo is offering the service. No longer does it set all the rules, particularly on the satellite-based offerings. It is involved, of course but customized rate plans for individual airlines rather than a fixed structure system-wide are now far more common. As Gogo CEO Michael Small recently stated in a company earnings call, “We’re trying a lot of different new pricing models. I would not say that any of them are indicative necessarily of where we’re going to go in the long run other than to say they will increasingly be tailored to the airlines’ preferences.” For Alaska Airlines one of the specific tailored plans already available is the “Free Chat” plan, giving all passengers access to text-based chat services including iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger for free on all flights. That service, along with free access to all on-board movie content, expanded to the Virgin America fleet as of today.
Gogo recently bragged that a 2Ku install can be performed in under 48 hours. Even with that quick install time it seems that Alaska Airlines is taking a slower approach to the rollout. The full installation will take roughly two years, with the first “40 to 50 planes expected to be completed by the end of .” The rest of the installations will stretch into early 2020, leaving a relatively long window of uncertainty in terms of the service levels on board. Presumably the ETOPS fleet that flies to Hawaii will be prioritized so that those passengers finally get connectivity en route but that is not certain. The slower deployment is similar to Virgin Australia’s recently announced plans, raising the question of whether the pacing is being set by the airlines (most likely) or hardware availability from Gogo and its providers, including antenna manufacturer Thinkom.
Gogo also confirms that the 10 current planes carrying the ViaSat Ku/Ka hardware will be part of the mainline 2Ku upgrade effort. That ends the brief foray into a mixed provider arrangement. The Ku/Ka hardware provided Virgin America’s Hawaii flights with connectivity. The full 2Ku deployment delivers the same on that front, plus a unified user experience, a nice improvement.
For Gogo the additional 200ish planes brings the expected 2Ku fleet over 1800 aircraft, nearly 1,000 of which (~100+ AA, ~200+ AS/VX, ~600+ DL) are displacement of the company’s legacy ATG solution in North America.