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United Airlines boosts in-flight use of mobile on regional jets

The airline?s first Wi-Fi enabled flights will begin later this year, featuring Gogo's ATG-4 advanced air-to-ground Wi-Fi on E170, E175 and CRJ700 aircraft. The move comes as airlines strive to match the ability of buses and trains to let customers use mobile in-transit.

?Two-cabin regional jets play an important role in our network, particularly supporting our effort to offer the right levels of capacity and frequency in key business markets,? said Karen May, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United. ?Wi-Fi access is increasingly important to customers who fly these markets.
?Additionally, we?re already installing Wi-Fi on our mainline fleet,? she said. ?By outfitting our regional jets with Wi-Fi, we?re continuing to invest in in-flight connectivity and also expanding our customers? ability to stay connected when they travel with us.?
Long haul
Starting early next year, United regional-jet passengers will be able to view a range of movies and television shows on their Wi-Fi-enabled iOS and Android devices using United's mobile app, as well as on laptop computers.

More than 340 United jets offer Wi-Fi.

The launch of regional jet Wi-Fi and personal device entertainment is United's latest investment in its customers' in-flight connectivity. 

More than 340 United aircraft now offer Wi-Fi. 

Mobile use has remained flat on planes as travelers prefer to use the extra time slower modes of transportation afford to perform tasks on mobile devices, according to a study released this summer by DePaul University?s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

The study found that the ability to stay connected has significantly boosted the growth of intercity bus and train travel. Airline passengers have generally given up on intensive in-flight mobile use, suggesting that U.S. regulators? recent easing of a ban on personal electronic devices has had little effect, the study said.

Titled ?The Personal Tech Tidal Wave: The Rising Use of Electronic Devices on Intercity Bus, Planes & Trains,? the institute?s fifth annual study of personal electronic device use among passengers on intercity buses, planes, and trains sampled 7,034 passengers on 106 departures.

It found that discount city-to-city buses services such as Megabus experienced the fastest increase in technology use. More than 59 percent of bus passengers powered up ? an increase from 46.4 percent a year earlier ? and outdistanced Amtrak trains, conventional buses and air travel by a wide margin.

Wi-Fi expected
?Business travelers now expect Wi-Fi and can be resentful if they are forced to stay offline for extended periods of time," said Joe Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.

Business travelers expect Wi-Fi.

"Discount carriers are now providing Wi-Fi so it looks really poor for a big network airline to make passengers play the guessing game as to whether Wi-Fi will be available.

"The cost of putting Wi-Fi on regional jets has become low enough that it will soon be the industry standard. United doesn't want to be last in line to offer it,? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.