Qantas concluded last year that offering Wi-Fi to customers on flights to the US wasn't worth it, but United Airlines — one of its main rivals on the Australia-US route — has reached a different conclusion. It has fitted one Boeing 747 with Wi-Fi access, and says it plans to upgrade 300 aircraft by the end of 2013.
A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed to Lifehacker that the first Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft does sometimes fly on United's existing Australian routes (which connect Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco and Los Angeles). Right now it would be something of a lottery to guarantee you were on a Wi-Fi equipped flight, but that will presumably become less of an issue as more aircraft are upgraded.
The satellite-based Wi-Fi comes in two flavours: Standard, which costs $US14.99 on longer flights, and Accelerated, which costs $US19.99 and claims to offer faster download speeds. Given the variability of satellite performance, I'm not sure I'd spring for the pricier option.
United has generally been seen as the bargain-basement option for flying to the US. Offering Wi-Fi might be a handy way to attract more passengers, especially for people who can't sleep on planes. What do you think?