Hawaiian Airlines debuts SpaceX Starlink free inflight Wi-Fi

A Hawaiian Airlines A321 aircraft with Starlink WiFi installed.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is rolling out free Wi-Fi via SpaceX's Starlink aboard commercial flights this week, the companies told CNBC, the first major U.S. airline to offer the service via satellite.

“SpaceX has really cracked the code – literally, in terms of technology – to be able to deliver large bandwidth of very high-quality connectivity to a world-class aircraft,” Peter Ingram, CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, told CNBC .

Hawaii's plan for free Wi-Fi comes as airlines beef up their broadband connectivity offerings. JetBlue Airways offers free on-board Wi-Fi, and last year Delta Airlines has launched free on-board Internet for members of its loyalty program, after years of planning.

Hawaiian has an extensive network of flights over the Pacific Ocean, serving the continental United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, among other destinations, from Hawaii.

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“It really feels like an experience that shouldn't be possible when you board a commercial airline flight. And you can connect to the Internet and experience it in a way that's similar, if not better, to that you can live in your own home,” Chad Gibbs, vice president of Starlink commercial operations at SpaceX, told CNBC.

“We now have a completely different paradigm, which is that we can bring incredible amounts of capacity and bandwidth to the aircraft,” Gibbs added.

Hawaiian signed an agreement with SpaceX in April 2022, to use the Starlink network, which includes more than 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and has more than 2.3 million customers worldwide. The airline previously did not offer Wi-Fi on board.

A Starlink terminal installed on a Hawaiian Airlines plane.

Hawaiian Airlines

The companies did not disclose the value of the deal or the cost of installing each of the aviation-specific Starlink terminals on a commercial aircraft.

Ingram noted, however, that “costs have come down compared to early Wi-Fi systems.” He noted that Hawaiian was “actively” installing Starlink terminals, six of which have been completed so far on its Airbus A321 aircraft.

In total, Hawaiian plans to add Starlink to 18 of its A321s and 24 of its A330s later this year.

“We think this is really going to set a whole new standard for connectivity on board aircraft,” Ingram said.

The companies had initially planned to begin installing the Starlink terminals last year, but Ingram said SpaceX needed to launch more next-generation Starlink satellites and receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration before it could begin installation.

SpaceX regularly seeks necessary licenses for a wide variety of aircraft. It has received certification for small jets, and JSX, a semi-private charter, will begin using the service in late 2022.

“To date, Starlink has been used on more than 30,000 flights, on flights across the United States and around the world,” Gibbs said.

In addition to Hawaii, SpaceX announced Starlink onboard Wi-Fi agreements with Latvia's airBaltic, Japan's Zipair and Qatar Airways.

The addition of Starlink service comes in Hawaii shortly after the airline reached an agreement late last year to be acquired by Alaska Airlines in a $1.9 billion deal.

— CNBC's Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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