thoughts in my own, personal opinion
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In-Flight WiFi Strikes Again”
F U CN RD THS then
odds are pretty good that you are connected to the internet. We’ve come a long way from the screech of the
2400 baud modem dialing up our AOL or similar service. We now
have mobile devices that can access the net from just about anywhere in the world,
and we have ubiquitous WiFi in hotels, coffee shops, and many other pubic
locations. Sure, as a business traveler
I’ve stayed at hotels with atrociously low speed internet (the Gaylord Palms in
Orlando always comes to mind) but even there it does work – slowly, but it
works. …and then we have in-flight WiFi.
many others have spoken about how bad this is for years, how service companies
come and go, how pricing is a rip-off, and how poor
the connections usually are. The
response from airlines is usually “we’re in the process of improving, and feel
free to ask for a refund.” But that just
doesn’t make sense.
take a deep dive into the issues I experienced on my round trip to the NAB conference in Las Vegas
on United. I had an early Sunday morning
flight from EWR to LAS. That a great
itinerary because one arrives around 9am and can still get work done that day, and
it’s terrible because it forces one to wake up very early in the morning east
coast time - and that tends to make you a zombie by the evening west coast
time. (The United clubs by the way are never
open early enough to support ~6am flights, but the disastrous United Clubs at
EWR are far from supportive lately anyway, so let’s move past that issue.) Both my outbound and return flights were on
relatively new 737-900 aircraft. The outbound
had no IFE other than the WiFI based “personal
entertainment” and the return had Direct-TV plus WiFi. Of course, when I say “had” I use it very
loosely, because neither of the WiFi services actually worked.
what I was supposed to do of course. I
waited until after take-off to connect to the on-board WiFi, then proceeded
(via the united app as requested) to the WiFi-sign-in page. The system was smart enough to ask me to log
in with my name and Mileage Plus Number, and then it knew what my usual credit
card was, asked me to agree to terms, asked me to type a string a Captcha numbers, then took me
to a page that said “activating.”
Regrettably, it never did activate.
enough people complained to the FAs, someone had the brains to reboot the
system. This of course froze the movies
people were watching, but heck, what did they expect for
free – to be able to watch the ten year old movie selection without
interruption? When the system eventually
came back up I logged in again, and it had no record of my prior purchase. I had to buy the internet service again. (That’s a critical point – and I’ll get back
to it.) I went through the whole stupid
process again, got to activating again, then – like a miracle – the internet
worked – for about 10 minutes before it all went down again for the rest of the
flight. Amazingly (or perhaps not so
amazingly) the return flight (on a different aircraft) provided the exact same
experience – connect – pay – fail – reboot – connect – pay again – function for
~10 minutes – fail.
could chat about how poorly the system worked, and we could chat about how
aircraft systems are usually held to the highest standards and this one clearly
isn’t, but instead let’s talk about that little charge-me-twice-thingy. The system was smart enough to know what
credit card I use, and it was connected enough to bill that credit card – twice
for the one flight (and twice again with no better results on the return
trip.) But it was NOT smart enough to
know it had already billed my credit card the first time, and it was not
connected enough to let me stably connect to the internet. That’s not just broken, that’s evil and
dangerous. Dangerous because it stores
that credit card info for hackers and others to get at. Evil because someone at United must know that
it can process a charge without recording that it did or providing the service. How many people bother to ask for refunds
after they land? Most passengers are
exhausted and relieved to have survived the ordeal of flying United, and
quickly forget about asking.
of course – when I got home I put in an on-line refund request here.
I explained the issues and asked for the four refunds. The request was approved – for only one charge
refund. Today, assuming the refund system
is too stupid to actually read the text and file I submitted, I put in three
more requests, each with the individual receipt number attached. Let’s hope that works.
suggestion to fellow United flyers is to attempt to
purchase internet services on every flight offered, and put in a refund request
for every purchase after you land. Just
make it part of your routine. There is
clearly no data being tracked or correlation between the failed service and
charges being processed. They just
assume it was broken for every request because 99% of the time it is. The 1% of the time it actually works for you
you’ll wind up with poor, slow, eventually free internet for 10 or so
minutes. Only when United’s revenue for
the service goes completely negative will they eventually decide that making it
work reliably every time is something as important as processing the credit
card charges every time.
This article was written by David Danto and
contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under
prevailing fair use statutes.