Virgin Atlantic isn’t an airline that automatically springs to mind for most US based travellers. Although they fly out of eight major US cities and have some good connecting options they’re predominantly known for their flights to/from the UK – and they have a lot of competition on those routes from better known US-based airlines (and British Airways).
There have been a lot of changes at Virgin over the past 18 months, some of which have started to give them more visibility with US-based fliers. The biggest of these changes was a tie-in with Delta Airlines following Delta’s purchase of 49% of Virgin Atlantic from Singapore Airlines. This has led to a code sharing agreement between the two airlines which in turn has opened up more options for members of the respective loyalty programs.
Now Virgin Atlantic has announced that they will be introducing high-speed internet connectivity on all it’s flights (WSJ). Virgin will be the first European customer for a new satellite based system, developed by GoGo, called 2Ku. Gogo currently has its services installed in over 2,000 aircraft across ten airlines (mostly US based) but these have, so far, been predominately for use over the continental USA.
Virgin CEO Craig Kreeger has said that the airline plans to spend $490m on “a series of product enhancements including installing Wi-Wi throughout the fleet”. According to GoGo’s President and CEO Michael Small, the service should be available at the start of next year. It’s worth noting that Virgin and GoGo still need to finalize the terms of the deal so the implementation date could still be pushed back.
All in all this is a positive development for US and UK flyers. Delta and American Airlines already provide trans-Atlantic Wi-Fi on some of their routes (with more in the pipeline) but it can’t really be classed as “high-speed”. With news that 2Ku will allow “limited live-streaming video for some passengers” (presumably those in Virgin’s Upper Class cabin) and with speeds of “up to 70Mbps being discussed, it’s good to see technology on airlines being dragged into the 21st century.