United Rolls Out Wi-Fi On Overseas Flights

It used to be that one of the few places you couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal was at 30,000 feet, but soon there will be no excuse for being out of touch (or not getting work done) as airlines implement a dramatic expansion of onboard Wi-Fi services.

More than half of the planes flown by U.S. carriers currently offer Wi-Fi onboard, but United and other airlines are planning to up the ante by offering satellite-based Internet service en route. This not only means faster speeds, but the ability to get online during overseas flights – something not previously possible using ground-based technology.However, installing the satellite technology onto existing aircraft is no mean feat, with airlines forced to ground a plane for 15 days to get the system up and running. Engineers also have to run a series of tests to make sure passengers can get the signal strength they’re paying for. Since the shape and composition of a plane can cause Wi-Fi signals to bounce all over the place, experts have had their hands full making sure you can get can online no matter where on the plane you’re sitting.

And then there’s the cost. Installing Wi-Fi on a single aircraft sets the airline back more than $200,000 – and that’s not counting the revenue lost from taking the aircraft out of service for so long. Of course, airlines will more than make the money back in the long run thanks to the charges for using the Wi-Fi, which will range from around $4 to $23 depending on the flight.

Twenty of United’s planes are already equipped with the new Wi-Fi technology, with plans to bring that number up to 300 by the end of the year.

Check out the video below to learn more about United’s Wi-Fi expansion plans.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Raines]

Video: I need an upgrade. Give me an upgrade. I am an elite member.

Looking for the perfect video for the lazy Friday afternoon? Check out this animated clip showing an average business traveler demand an upgrade from the poor ticketing agent.

As funny as this may seem, this is actually based off real passengers and real interactions with airline employees. Obviously, the whole thing looks funnier in an animated clip, which is what makes it perfect for ending the work week with!

Got any great anecdotes, experiences or passenger stories from your travels? Share them in the comments section!

Do airlines care how you’re dressed?

The lists are almost comical. All over the travel web, you’ll find articles about how to scam score an upgrade from an airline, and invariably, one of the items involves attire. If you dress well, the thinking goes, you’ll be treated better, ostensibly because airline employees judge books by their covers. But, does it really work?

There are a lot of variables that are much more important than attire, such as whether you have elite status. So, it’s a bit much, it feels, to over-value clothing. Further, procedural constraints deemphasize the role of how you’re dressed in your general treatment by airline employees.

I’ve been fed the “well-dressed” story since I started flying frequently on business more than a decade ago. I never really bought it, though, as treatment was almost always obscured either by my temper or my status.

But, that’s all different now.

I no longer have the coveted “platinum” tag, and I’m starting to fly fairly frequently again. In the past month, I’ve been on four international flights, and I’ve learned … just what you’d expect. Treatment may be a hair better if you’re sartorially splendid, but all things rarely are equal enough to make a real call on this.

Here’s what I wore (and what I saw):1. Jeans and a respectable button-down shirt: This is what I wear to work every day, and it’s good enough for my employer. So, if it works for the people who pay me, it should be good enough for the airlines I pay, right?

Ummmmm … yes, actually.

I was treated about as well as can be by an airline (without elite status or a first-class ticket). I get neither more nor less than I had coming to me. Truth be told, the flight attendants were friendly and accommodating. Though I wasn’t dressed like an executive, I held myself like one, and that seemed to get the job done.

2. Jeans and a Gadling shirt: Nobody gave a damn that I write for one of the largest travel blogs on the web (which was perfectly fine with me, frankly). So, for all of you who think we get special treatment when we’re recognized … we’re not recognized (at least I’m not). And, the fact that I was dressed down made no noticeable difference.

3. The full uniform: As I write this, I’m wearing a suit, tie and horribly uncomfortable shiny shoes. I arrived at the airport from the Toronto Stock Exchange, where I rang the opening bell with IR magazine. I was all business – and looked it and felt it. According to the conventional wisdom, the airline should have upgraded me to first class and kicked everyone else out, right?

So, what happened?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was treated as I was when clad in my Gadling shirt and my button-down and jeans. The fact that the jacket matched the pants added nothing to the equation.

[photo courtesy of Inside Investor Relations]

United creates Optathlon games for day-of-departure prizes

It’s a long shot, but if all of your attempts to find a better seat, upgrade and improve your upcoming trip on United Airlines have failed then there’s one last thing you can do. Last week, United launched a series of video games on their website with prizes aimed at traveling customers.

What can you win? Among other things, it’s possible to earn the opportunity to skip those pesky long lines at the TSA checkpoint or maybe even win an upgrade to economy plus. All you have to do is play for an entry.

Obviously, United’s new games are targeted at educating the consumer on their full host of products and upgrades, including economy plus (more leg room and closer to the front of the plane) and elite status. And you will have to install a little game widget into your browser to make the games work. But for the chance to win a sweet little upgrade either on the plane or at the airport, it’s definitely worth a shot. Besides, the games are kind of fun.

You can check out the full series of games over at Optathlon.com.

[image credit to flickr’s lovely lemur]

Hotel room upgrades on the cheap with “Nor1” online service

During one of my summer Mattress Runs, the hotel booking process offered something any frequent guest loves to see – the option to request a paid upgrade. Since I had never seen this offered at this particular chain, I decided to dig a little deeper into the feature. As it turns out, there is a third party company behind the service called Nor1.

Nor1 lets hotels generate extra revenue by upselling unused rooms to existing guest reservations – the process is extremely simple and takes place during the reservation. For a fee starting under $10, hotels can “upsell” guests a larger room, suite, balcony or other upgrade. In my case, I was offered an upgrade from a standard room to an executive king room for just $9 – well within the amount I’d be willing to pay.

Since the hotel assigns upgrades themselves, you don’t know whether you actually get the upgrade until you arrive, but you also won’t be charged unless you are actually upgraded.

Sadly, as with many technologies, this service looked better online than it did in reality. Upon arrival at my Hyatt, nobody had any idea what I was talking about, and claimed they had never heard of the service. I’ll put it down to “growing pains”, and hope that Nor1 starts offering these paid upgrade options at more hotel chains (along with some training for the front desk staff).

According to their site, Nor1 currently offers upgrades with Kimpton, Country Inns and Suites, Hilton and several other hotel chains. Their technology isn’t even limited to hotels – the system is able to do upsells on rental cars, airlines and cruise lines.