IT'S NOT the first time that we've talked on these hallowed pages about in-flight WiFi, but the reality is it's a long way from ready yet.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that the culprit here is United, the current kings of airline bad publicity.
Part of the problem is that, in common with a number of airlines who have seen the opportunity to get out of refurbishing their aging planes, United have decided to get rid of seat backs altogether in favour of an intranet streaming service, with optional internet access.
And so the first problem comes. Despite a charge of $30 (about £23), the reception is awful. I spent 13:44 seconds trying to load the BBC News page, while an attempt to run a speed test actually crashed the site. Repeatedly.
United completely admits that the service is a tad unreliable, but I really wasn't expecting it to be this bad. And it doesn't stop there.
The inflight entertainment intranet has, for obvious reasons, got a whole bunch of Digital Rights Management (DRM) attached to it. Which means you have to download plugins or use the United app.
If you are an Android or iOS user, that's impossible unless you did it before you boarded, unless you pay for internet access. But for Windows users, the problem is unsolvable, because of a problem that we've been talking about for a long time.
Yes, the whole system has been made to work off Adobe Flash, the festering pussbag of hideousness that seems to keep growing extra heads, the more people try to kill its virus ridden corpse to bed for ever.
Now, if you've been keeping up with your INQ reading, you'll know that most of the big browsers have started blocking Flash content altogether. Some still let you turn it on manually, but the problem is enough for United to warn (after 15 minutes of struggling with the DRM plug-in that I had to have $30 internet access to download), that "your browser is not supported for personal device entertainment".
It suggests trying Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. I do. It doesn't. Edge doesn't even get a look-in.
So in other words, United's system (and I'm going easy on them over the whole non-existent WiFi thing) rules out the default browser for the current flagship Windows operating system, and the most popular browser in the world right now. And the others don't actually work either.
11 hours is a long time when you've got nothing to watch, and the fact that United haven't done anything to allow users to prepare in advance for the experience that is their non-existent film service just serves to compound an already ridiculous system.
For the record, Business and First still get screens, but they're getting the same crappy WiFi, and some will have come on board hoping to get some work done.
United, incidentally, warns that using streaming chat programs is strictly prohibited, and streaming video is actually blocked altogether. Which is a good thing, because the service is unusable just for surfing web pages.
It's a worrying trend. There seems to be this idea that because the technology can work, that it should be used, even when it's not even close to being ready. At a time when passengers (especially in the main cabin) are finding more and more to moan about (especially United passengers, it seems), I am quite stunned that they are getting away with such a shonky system. It will make me think twice before I travel longhaul again. I might have to invest on one of those things with all the pages. You know the one… a Kindle.
Otherwise, it won't be about being dragged off kicking and screaming, you might actually find me having to be dragged on kicking and screaming.
For complete disclosure, United has a mechanism and dedicated page for claiming a refund on its WiFi and they had the money back in my account within 24-hours with no quibble. But that actually raises more questions than it answers, surely? µ
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