The inside track on United’s wi-fi installations


With a project that began in 2013, we’ve been hard at work installing satellite wi-fi throughout our fleet. In fact, we’ve now outfitted over 280 aircraft to offer global access on our long-haul international fleet and a superior experience on our domestic fleet. This is an important milestone given the complexity of the technology, the costs involved and the time-consuming nature of the installation itself.

Here’s an update on our progress:

Satellite wi-fi installation on our Airbus A320s, A319s, B757s and B747s are complete, and the first wi-fi-equipped international Boeing 777 began flying in early March 2014. We plan to have wi-fi installed on more than half the planned fleet during summer 2014, with installations largely complete by the end of the year. More than one-third of our B737-900ERs are completed, with more being updated every day. It is important to note, however, that some of our new B737-900ERs were delivered last year with no wi-fi or inflight entertainment options, in anticipation of the wi-fi system being installed across the fleet. These aircraft will first have wi-fi installed, followed soon after by personal device entertainment.

Take a look at the steps involved in preparing aircraft to deliver Internet connectivity in the skies.

Installation process

As mentioned earlier, the process of adding satellite wi-fi to our fleet is a time-consuming and complex one. Here’s what happens over the nine-day installation process as we move from blueprint to outfitted aircraft.

Day 1: Pre-build outside the aircraft and inside preparations begin: we assemble access platforms, and inventory installation parts and separate them from the pre-built kits to install them in the aircraft.

Day 2: We continue with the pre-build process, with a focus on wiring of bundles: taking groups of wires that will be run together, combining them into harnesses, cutting the necessary length outside the aircraft, and then taking the final length into the aircraft to run from point to point. We build the GCS rack – which is the platform for the two boxes and fan that represent the “brains” of the system – outside the aircraft before we mount it inside.

Days 3 and 4: The intricate process of wiring into the avionics compartment begins, and we start drilling on the radome, both inside and out. We begin modifications to the antenna power box mounting and start drilling and mounting sheet metal components in cabin interiors and the wiring in the fuselage.

Day 4: Installation in the cargo compartment commences; the cargo compartment contains the GCS rack.

Day 5: Sheet metal assembly begins in the galley and video-storage compartment. A power panel in the galley contains all the circuit breakers used to power and depower both the entire system and the individual components. The video stowage compartment contains the crew panel to monitor the system and the switchbox to allow loading of software from the cabin as well as control over the system.

Days 6 and 7: We finalize the antenna and radome installation.

Day 8: We check the aircraft’s electrical integrity. This process, known as the “ring out,” involves sending electrical power through the wires, one at a time, to ensure the signal transmits across the same wire on the other end and to confirm that all wires are hooked up properly.

Day 9: We power on all the electrical components of the aircraft and implement the software installation. After the software is loaded, we take the aircraft outside for an operational check of the system, connecting to the satellite and towing the aircraft around our maintenance area to ensure it tracks the satellite successfully. We also perform operational checks of all aircrft systems.

We expect to complete this project by the end of 2015.

If you are flying United and want to determine if you are on a flight that offers United Wi-Fi, check the Inflight Amenities tab of the Flight Status & Information at or on our mobile app, look for the Wi-Fi logo on the side of the aircraft, or listen for an announcement by the flight crew. For the most up-to-date information on Wi-Fi availability, please visit

Uploaded September 2014

Share this story:

About Author

Comments are closed.