United is on bleeding edge of integrating multiple Wi-Fi products


LAS VEGAS: Passengers focus on the value inflight connectivity brings in the form of distraction or entertainment; they want to be online and have the content they want easily and quickly accessible. For the airlines, however, passenger connectivity is only a small part of the value proposition. More and more the focus is on connectivity for flight attendants, for pilots, for maintenance and other aspects of the airline operations. Such developments are not always easy, but the airlines believe the return on investment will justify the effort.

Speaking at the Future Travel Experience Global 2014 conference this week Tarek Abdel-Halim, United Airlines’ managing director of cabin systems, acknowledged that the carrier has lagged its competitors in the United States on passenger connectivity for some time now. For Abdel-Halim that lag is something the carrier hopes to capitalize on, with a newer generation of technology and tighter integration to the entire operation. It is about having the airplanes as a “node on the network” and using that to deliver a better passenger experience, far beyond just online service:

“We enable connectivity for the passenger and pair that with connectivity for the crew on board. They can know who is on that plane, [offering] a very personalized delivery of service that knows exactly what your preferences are… Those are the kinds of efficiencies which can improve the cost side of our business but also improve the personalized level of service we can offer,” says Abdel-Halim.

Getting to this point requires tight coordination with partners, a special challenge for United given that they have multiple connectivity partners. One of those partners is optimistic on the value the connectivity brings and the approach United has taken. Mike Moeller, VP of sales and marketing for Thales/Live TV and one of the connectivity providers United has on its fleet, sees great potential in this approach, “We’re really watching what [United] is doing. We believe they’re on that bleeding edge of integrating all of these different products from these different companies, bringing all of it together and drive it deep into the organization. For United we’re trying to deliver a platform that they can use to really deliver that experience, not only to passengers but to crew, to operations.”

And Moeller acknowledges that many of these benefits can be delivered on lower-bandwidth solutions, though there are other factors at play. “It sometimes doesn’t require the biggest pipe but it sometimes has to require a low-cost solution.” Getting to that correct balance is a challenge but it is one airlines are jumping at the opportunity to meet; there are real benefits on the horizon if they can get there.