Spirit Airlines announced back in May 2018 that it would be equipping its entire fleet of Airbus A320 family jets with high speed WiFi. At the time, it said the service would be ready to use by summer 2019. Clearly, that date has slipped, as we are now very much in 2020 and there’s still no sign of onboard WiFi.
Although most of the mainline carriers in the US now offer WiFi, at least on North American routes, none of the ultra-low-cost carriers do. Frontier, Allegiant and Spirit all lack connectivity in the air, but Spirit was determined to break this trend and be the first to offer high-speed WiFi on board.
The airline selected FlytLIVE from Thales as its system, and organized a swift installation plan to get things moving. But not everything has gone to plan.
What’s gone wrong with Spirit’s WiFi plan?
An easier question to answer would be what’s gone right with Spirit’s plan, because it seems like the budget airline’s plan to provide inflight connectivity has been flawed from the start.
Installations did begin back in September 2018, on target for its goal of service launching for the summer season last year. However, they stopped just as quickly as they started, with very little explanation as to what was causing the delay.
— Edward Russell (@e_russell) October 4, 2018
Both Thales, the chosen supplier, and Spirit themselves blustered about the reasons for the hold ups, but insisted they would only be a month or two behind schedule. That didn’t seem to be accurate, as the installations continued to stagnate for a whole 12 months more.
Until this past September, just five Spirit Airlines aircraft had WiFi equipment on board. That’s a tiny portion of the 145 A320 family aircraft it has flying, and leaves a lot of work to be done.
Antenna problems stall installations again
Spirit restarted installations in September 2019. Five more aircraft were equipped with the Thales FlytLIVE Ka-band system, but then everything ground to a halt again. This time, the airline was clear that some issues were being worked through, with CEO Ted Christie telling Runway Girl Network,
“The first thing is the product … we’re still working with Thales to kind of refine some of the technical glitches that get us on the rollout. But we think we’re at the final stages of getting that to work where we can start doing full scale installations into 2020 and getting the fleet done by the early part of 2021.”
Those technical glitches? Well, it seems to be an issue with the antenna. The Points Guy reports that the carrier needs to re-install WiFi antennas on the 10 Airbus aircraft that have already been fitted with the system. The specifics of which antennas have caused problems and what they will be replaced with remains unclear.
RGN dug into this at APEX this year, getting confirmation from Christie that the carrier was using Thales equipment for its antennas. He also said they would be sticking with that equipment. However, ThinKom chair and CTO Bill Milroy could ‘neither confirm nor deny’ whether his company was swooping in to save the day with a replacement antenna.
When will we see WiFi on Spirit?
Judging by the amount of work there is to do, it would be prudent for both passengers and for Spirit themselves to be conservative in their estimates of the time required to equip the fleet. According to Spirit’s WiFi Q&A page, installations were slated to begin in November (2019) with the entire fleet connected by the end of 2020.
While installations may well be pressing ahead, we don’t expect to see a full fleet rollout in time for even this summer season. There may well be some aircraft equipped by July and August, but to equip all 145 aircraft, including testing each system, looks set to take a whole lot longer.
In summary, you could get lucky and fly a Spirit aircraft with WiFi this summer, but it’s unlikely this could be guaranteed much before this time next year.