Hawaiian Airlines launched a new high-speed inflight internet service on Monday, becoming the first major carrier to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network.
Staying connected while traversing between the U.S. continent and Hawaii—one of the most geographically remote archipelagos in the world—will become as effortless as using your home internet, Hawaiian Airlines said in a press release following an FAA certification test flight.
The service debuted on a Hawaiian Airbus A321neo aircraft (N228HA) flying from Honolulu to Long Beach. It utilizes Starlink’s low-latency broadband satellite network to provide fast inflight Wi-Fi that allows activities like video streaming, gaming, video calls and more.
The Wi-Fi is free and available as soon as passengers board without needing to register or pay. It will roll out across Hawaiian’s A321neo fleet over the next few months as more planes are activated, eventually coming to all 18 A321neos by spring.
In a statement, Chris Liebertz, Hawaiian’s senior director of engineering, said the airline is “offering our guests a travel experience unlike any other airline flying to and from the Hawaiian Islands.”
According to Will Seidel, SpaceX’s director of Starlink engineering, Hawaiian worked closely with SpaceX to install custom-designed aviation antennas on the A321neos to connect to Starlink’s network of satellites in low Earth orbit. This allows a seamless signal handoff between satellites so guests enjoy uninterrupted connectivity even on long over-water flights.
Before receiving FAA certification for Starlink, Hawaiian and SpaceX jointly tested the Wi-Fi performance in real-world conditions on several flights. Employees used their personal devices to stream media, game, transfer files and more to fine-tune the service quality.
“During these tests, employees streamed shows and movies, played video games with friends, downloaded and uploaded large files, worked in real time, and scrolled on social media,” Liebertz explained. “Each assessment then allowed us to fine-tune the service.”
The successful inflight demos plus ground testing allowed the FAA to certify Starlink for Hawaiian’s full A321neo fleet. Once fully deployed, Hawaiian expects to expand the service to its new Boeing 787s once delivered.
Liebertz—who has been close to the project since before it was announced in April 2022—said the launch represented a major collaborative achievement between the companies after working closely since announcing their partnership last April. He said Hawaiian’s guests will find the technology to be “game-changing” for future air travel.
A select group of Hawaiian Airlines employees were invited to a special charter flight between Honolulu and Hilo to test the Starlink Wi-Fi using their various personal devices.
Rolling Out the Service
Before the public launch, Hawaiian and Starlink “worked alongside the FAA to verify that our aviation terminal (antenna) met strict safety standards,” Seidel explained.