Is Virgin America about to add faster internet?

Will Virgin America soon upgrade its internet? Photo: Virgin America. 

Will Virgin America soon upgrade its internet? Photo: Virgin America. 

Is Virgin America about to improve its on-board internet?

I visited Virgin America headquarters earlier this week, and I got the impression a big announcement is coming. Nobody is talking about it in concrete terms, but executives hinted that the airline's connectivity will soon improve. 

Virgin America's hand probably has been forced. All 53 of its airplanes now have Gogo's air-to-ground internet system. As the name would suggest, each airplane must be close to ground-based cell towers for the internet to work.

That's not a problem for Virgin America because it doesn't fly any overwater routes. But by late fall, Virgin America will begin flying new airplanes - they haven't even arrived yet - from San Francisco to Maui and Honolulu. The current air-to-ground system won't work. 

I'm predicting Virgin America will announce it is installing Gogo's new 2KU satellite system on the new aircraft, and I think it is possible the airline will retrofit older planes. The system has peak speeds about eight times faster than Virgin America's current internet. 

I have to guess because Virgin America CEO David Cush wouldn't say much about the airline's plans.

"We have some ideas of what we will do to Hawaii that will be special with our product that we will be talking about in the coming months," he told me. "I think people who like flying us to New York are going to like flying us to Hawaii just as much."

COO Steve Forte was similarly non-committal. "We have a couple of things that are coming down the pike that we are not really ready to talk about."

If news of faster internet seems familiar, it might be because Virgin America previously committed to a new satellite-based system sold by Gogo. The airline and Gogo even held a big press conference in 2013 to announce the news. But about a year ago, Virgin America changed its mind, and it never installed the system. (Gogo seems to have quietly dropped the technology that Virgin America planned to use, as several readers pointed out.)