The Horrors of United Wifi

I truly have only rarely experienced technology issues to the extent that I have while attempting to use United’s Wifi Internet services.

Conservatively, 4 our of the last 5 flights I have taken on United have experienced either no Internet service or impaired service.  I have made United aware of the issue and what I received in response was a digital shrug.

As I write this, my fellow business travelers (on United) had no Wifi from Orlando to Houston , and my wife / daughter returning to Orlando from San Francisco (a 4+ hour flight!) have no Internet!  It might be somewhat reasonable (but arcane) to not have Wifi on a flight, but to advertise that it has Wifi only to find the system inoperable boils down to fraudulent business practice.

To make matters more irritating, now United actually advertises these in-flight services with snappy commercials that make it look like business executives can continue working in-flight.  That may be true on flights that use GoGo Inflight services (literally every other airline but United), but I would consider it false advertising for United.

United is being sued for advertising their inflight movie capabilities when in truth these are only available on the continental US.  But let’s get down to the details.

Problem 1 – United Wifi Often Just Does Not Function

And to make matters worse, no one on the flight crew knows how to kick-start it into working.  There’s some flaw in the system that happens when the plane lands and converts to local (terminal) power and back.  This appears to cause service to disconnect or hang.  Users are presented with a “not available” screen when this is not actually the case.

If you can talk your flight crew into resetting the system, and believe me it takes quite the cajoling, sometimes the system will start working.  On one flight I was not able to convince the crew to reset the system.  The response I received was that “it’s not possible” or “the cockpit has to do it” or, “oh that never works” or even more amazingly “we’re over an area where there’s no coverage”.

The service just does not work reliably.

Problem 2 – United Wifi Does Not Allow Streaming And Attempts to Guess Which Host Streaming Content

The first part makes sense.  Streaming video would quickly bog down the connection, making it a miserable experience for all users.  So United smartly does not allow streaming of video on its service.

Part 2 is the problem.  It blocks sites that it thinks will stream information.  Even ESPN pages that do not have video are blocked because somewhere on ESPN there is streaming video.  There must be a list of hostnames that, according to United, have streaming video somewhere on them, and when you try to visit the site (any part of the site), you are presented with a “sorry” message.

Problem 3 – United Wifi Performance is Terrible

Spotty? Slow? Drops connection inexplicably?  Yes, yes and yes.  I know it can be done better because on other airlines that have Gogo Inflight Wifi, I rarely have issues.  Gogo is solid.  United Wifi is not.

Problem 4 – Switching Across Multiple Devices

With Gogo, after paying for service, you can log into the service using another device and Gogo will seamlessly slide service to the new device.

Guess what happens with United? It gets confused and has no idea what device you want to switch the service to.  Then it starts prompting you to re-authenticate but then the screen is missing the verification code you are required to enter.  What follows shortly is some screen shots from two hour effort during a recent United flight from Orlando to San Francisco to get any Wifi reestablished on any of my devices.  After paying $6.99 for one hour of service and using my United login, I decided to switch from my Macbook to my iPad.  No can do.  My daughter unfortunately logged into United Wifi on her iPad using my same id and could not get hers to work on her device either.  We could never get the original Wifi service reestablished for the rest of the flight.

I even messed with my network settings, forcing various IP addresses (rather than using DHCP) to try to fool the system to charge me again to at least give me service for what would appear to be a new device.  Again, no can do.

In the end, I was never able to get my service reestablished.

Here are some screen shots that are both hilarious and sad –

Screen Shot 1 – Log In Again

United Wifi - Device Already Has Wifi.jpgThis is a result of my attempt to switch service to another device.  It believes both devices are the same?  The error message tells me to log in to get access reestablished. When I logged in, I received a general failure screen that didn’t allow me to proceed.  Unfortunately I don’t have a screen shot of that message.

Screenshot 2 – Enter the Invisible Captcha Code

United Wifi - Please Enter Captcha

If you attempt to purchase the service again (in your futile attempt to get some Internet service in place), you are presented with the remarkable screen above.  Clicking Continue Mileage Plus Sign In reports the error shown above that you must enter the verification code.  But it’s missing on the page!  And you can’t continue without it.

If you then think heck, I’ll log in as a guest, first it does not explain what a confirmation number is (it’s not required but still…) and then clicking continueas “guest” responds with a generic error message that says there was an error establishing the service – and you’re stuck on that screen.  As noted, I was not able to get a screen grab of that screen unfortunately.

I was able to get to a screen that actually showed a verification code by forcing a URL that included the “/register” page name, but that failed as well.

The Bottom Line

This service is shameful.  In a grab for more money by developing their own alternative to Gogo Inflight, United has shown it really does not have the chops to deliver this technology and then falsely advertises how well it works.

I travel on business frequently and I often take United because they usually have the schedule I desire, but more often than not I’ve opted for American (or any other major airline), that has the rock solid Gogo Inflight service.  On my return flight later today from SFO, I will be on United once again and it’s more than likely that the Internet service will fail again.  If it does, and I’m able to capture additional screen shots, I will add them to this article.  And as noted, both my business partners that are flying out to  San Francisco to meet me and my wife & daughter that at returning to Orlando from San Francisco are not able to get United Wifi Internet to function.

Note: I have no affiliation to Gogo and I really have no dislike for United.  It used to be my favorite airline and my wife actually was a flight attendant for United a ways back.  This has all to do with the frustration of not being able to conduct business while in transit, United’s lack of response on the matter and their recent advertisements promoting the effectiveness of the service for business travelers.  At some point if the service does not improve, I can smell a lawsuit.




5 thoughts on “The Horrors of United Wifi

  1. Will,

    I found this blog post while chatting with my brother who was flying over the Bering Strait on a United flight, trying to connect his computer to United wifi.

    He also discovered the missing CAPTCHA, and it was really frustrating.

    I was on the ground searching for solutions, and your blog gave him the clue he needed to figure out the problem when I told him it was related to switching between devices.

    He noticed that clicking “switch to this device” on his phone took him to the URL https:/, while clicking the same link on his computer incorrectly took him to https:/, where the CAPTCHA is missing.

    Changing the URL on his computer from /register to /switch allowed the CAPTCHA to show up and he was able to connect.

    It looks like United’s mobile site redirects properly, but their regular site redirects to the wrong link! I’m not sure who to contact at United about this.

    Hope this helps someone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wes – I’m glad you found the solution. I can tell you that using the Wifi at United was soooo terrible as compared to Gogo. I haven’t flown United in a while so perhaps they’ve improved it overall. Thanks for the feedback.


      1. Sure. The problem is, I tried to call them so they can fix it, and there’s no way to get in touch with anyone that has any capacity to help.

        Pretty frustrating.


  2. That’s exactly it – I ended up tweeting @United and they responded the first time with an apology. The next time they didn’t respond. I also posted on their United Facebook page with no feedback. Interestingly in my tweet to @United, I also used @Gogo and THEY responded, despite not having anything to do with it.

    I have another issue with a Facebook blocking my posts on other sites and have not been able to reach *anyone* at FB to explain to my why I was blocked, for what, for how long. I’m going to write a post on that soon after I do a little more research.


  3. No joke, thank you both for posting on the CAPTCHA issue and the solution. It was so frustrating and I was at my wits end but your solution worked. THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

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