Gogo’s More Planes, More Coverage, More Experience
Ever wonder how fast WiFi on an airplane works? Arguably, the company that’s best in the industry at it is Gogo. I was invited and recently went on an all access tour to see nearly every aspect of how they serve up the Internet at 36,000 ft all day everyday and more importantly for them, now around the world.
Four Leaf Clover In Chicago
My trip started out like any other, via a flight to Chicago, where Gogo’s HQ is located. I flew on a United 757 nonstop without WiFi. This immediately put into perspective how I have become accustomed to having Internet access when I fly on Delta, Virgin America, American Airlines or Southwest Airlines.Most of those airlines utilize Gogo, while Southwest Airlines has Row44. Travelers from around the world have been dealing with spotty Internet access on airplanes for years. Only now are they getting a taste at what the US airline industry has enjoyed. Gogo is going international with an innovative fast satellite system.
Landing In Chicago
Landing in Chicago after a three and a half plus hour flight sans Internet had me checking my social media streams at the exact second it was allowed. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport or ORD has WiFi pre and post-security that’s provided by the Boingo Network at $6.95 for a 24-hour period. Coming from Las Vegas, where it has sponsored WiFi, I somewhat expected the WiFi to be free in Chicago.
United Terminal Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Some folks ask why WiFi isn’t provided for free on airplanes. There are a great number of important reasons why WiFi on a jet has to cost money, but Internet access on land is generally more available due to sponsorships. For instance, Salt Lake City used to have Boingo’s pay for WiFi, but they have since moved their network over to a sponsored setup similar to what Las Vegas LAS offered.
Chicago O’Hare Airport Terminal 1 Tunnel Sky’s The Limit Light Show
One plus about flying in on United to Chicago was the awesome light show I was treated to in the underground tunnel between concourses B and C of Terminal 1. “The Sky’s the Limit” by Michael Hayden is a mile-long kinetic light show made from 466 neon tubes. It includes 23,600 square feet of mirror reflecting over one mile of neon.
Coming from Las Vegas, it was nice to transition into a Chicago frame of mind via colorful neon. If you have time to spare at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and find yourself in Terminal 1, do take a walk around the art installation.
Now it was time to collect my luggage and find a ride to the hotel. I met up with Jason Rabinowitz @AirlineFlyer on Twitter, who was also waiting for our car.
Limo Service From Chicago Airport
We walked outside and were presented with a stretched Chrysler 300! Now that’s Vegas status. The World Cup was going on at the time and we didn’t have a TV or WiFi in the limo. So Jason took out his iPad Air with a cellular connection and streamed a match during our trip.
Hyatt Place Chicago River North
It took a while to get to the Hyatt Place Chicago River North. Traffic was ridiculous on the freeway into town. I am told the traffic is always busy and it’s necessary to plan accordingly when going to or from the airport. If you are on a schedule, it might be better to take Chicago’s “L” train back to the airport from Downtown.
Hyatt Place Chicago River North Room Tour
Checking into my 14th-floor double occupancy room was easy as the staff at the front desk were friendly. I was happy to find a small living room with a resting area and views of the Langham Chicago, Trump Chicago and the John Hancock building where Boeing’s offices are located.
View of Boeing’s Offices From Hyatt Place Chicago River North
Gogo will be moving their headquarters in 2015 from Itasca, IL to Boeing’s current location. That’s a smart move for them. They are reaching towards the goal of providing their hardware as a build option for airplane manufacturers to offer during the purchase process, rather than a retrofit.
Relaxing in my room with the glow from the city lights was nice. One thing to keep in mind while staying at this Hyatt Place location is that it’s located next to a fire station. They provided me with a set of handy earplugs.
Crossing The Chicago River Headed to Gogo
My group had an early wake-up call and for good reason. The trip out to Itasca, Illinois takes about an hour. Lucky for me, we took a route through the city and I was able to visually plan where I would be walking around on my second day in Chicago.
Gogo All Access Badge
Welcome To Gogo All Access Day Presentation
Breakfast and branded Mophie power packs were waiting for us when we arrived to Gogo’s HQ. After welcoming us, their CEO explained why they choose to reinvest a large portion of their earnings into furthering their systems, technology, processes and customer service. As the introductory presentations wrapped up, we broke up into two groups for the tour.
Gogo Marketing Department Branded Items
Our first stops were the marketing department and Network Operations Center. The NOC takes up a fairly large section of their main office building and is teaming with highly qualified people that keep everything running.
Gogo All Access Network Operations Center
Gogo Headquarters All Access Tour
The videos show what they track, how they mitigate issues before they become larger problems and how their services work for customers flying around the world. Visiting inside of any NOC is usually met with non-disclosure agreements, checked smartphones and off limit areas. I was truly given an all access pass to see and photograph whatever I wanted.
Gogo Special Room Presentation
Next up was a visit to a room that simulates what it’s like inside of an airplane. All cellular and WiFi signals were blocked from the outside. Inside however, we were able to connect to the Gogo WiFi network.
Gogo Live Social Media Stats
An engineer explained to us how it all worked and gave us a customer service presentation. We saw a live ticket screen and learned that their average resolution per issue is about four minutes.
Open Up At Gogo
Nearly every time that I have tried to utilize their service, it works throughout the flight. Their customer service folks who have helped me through their chat system are able to so more often than not. To a new customer that might be having issues, a live chat is the best way to resolve them. They have access to a lot of data about the flight, where it’s located within their network and possible communications issues due to weather or other factors.
One customer service story they told us involved someone trying to check their email via a VPN connection to their office computer. VPN connections require a lot of bandwidth so it isn’t recommended. But they found a way to work around the issue and the customer ended up with a positive solution.
Welcome To Gogo All Access In Chicago
Making sure they have customer service people available is a top priority for Gogo. I have experienced several times where they have gone above and beyond what I expected them to help me as a paying customer. They have multiple customer service centers around the country to help people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Gogo 2Ku Satellite Antennas
Gogo’s in-flight WiFi service is the best from what I have utilized over the years on multiple airlines. Some have asked why the service isn’t free. Gogo has partnered with sponsors like All State Insurance, Facebook, eBay and Amazon in the past. Those sponsors either allow you to access their website free of charge or give you 30 to 45 minutes of open access after filling out a survey. Utilizing WiFi at 500 mph above 10k feet is an expensive proposition.
Gogo Black Box Testing In Their Satellite Lab
No more evident was when it was brought to our attention inside of the satellite labs at a secondary building across the plaza. An entire building of engineers at Gogo tirelessly test satellite hardware, international flight scenarios, its next generation of antennas and black box hubs now with in-flight entertainment.
Gogo Next Generation Black Box With Streaming Entertertainment
Gogo’s black box hubs of the future will enable them to swap their hardware into current airplanes after a wiring harness cable is upgraded. They want to make it as easy as possible for airlines to upgrade to their new boxes through reduced downtime. To see what was involved in a hardware retrofit, we visited their FAA certified shipping center in Bentonville, Illinois.
Gogo’s Warehouse And Ship Kit Preparation
Their shipping facility is where they track every bolt in and out to airplanes that await retrofit or hardware upgrades. Instead of using DVD’s to distribute in-flight entertainment like movies or shows, they now use a DRM protected and serialized USB solid-state data stick.
Gogo Entertainment Data Stick Area
Deploying data sticks to their newer black box systems save them from having to use bandwidth that is otherwise allocated for their WiFi customers. Software and hardware are reinstalled or repaired to specification at this location as well. They have created an extremely tight testing, repair and tracking system too.
Gogo Hardware Repair Table
We boarded a bus from Gogo’s shipping center back to their HQ in Itasca, to wrap up our day. During our dinner presentation, they surprised us all with authentic Chicago style pizza, hotdogs and a special live WiFi speed test.
Gogo Satellite Receiver
We thought the Internet being provided in the conference room was from a landline connection. But we were using their ground to orbit satellite service that’s rated at a connection speed of around 60Mbps. They had disconnected us to show a Speedtest.net test with their satellite downlink. The test showed a ping speed of about 340 ms and 46 Mbps down. That’s the fastest Internet satellite downlink speed I have ever experienced.
Gogo HQ All Access Collage
None of the invited group knew we were using their next gen GTO satellite Internet service. What we experienced in their conference room rivaled what I normally enjoy at home on my cable connection. We were a small group of people who have ever used their new service.
Navy Pier Navy Man Statue
Additional fun with the Gogo group was right around the corner that evening. We went back to our hotel to change for the night’s festivities.
Chicago Sunset Spirit Cruise On Lake Michigan
Chicago’s Spirit Cruises On Lake Michigan
A sunset dinner cruise on Lake Michigan was nice after a busy day. We sailed during an evening with huge storms looming on the horizon, which made for amazing photos. Our ship left the Navy Pier and headed out beyond the breakers.
Spirit Cruises Buffet Inside
Spirit Cruises Sparkling Wine Chicago View
The food on the cruise was tasty. I opted to enjoy my entrée inside and then took a glass of sparkling wine out onto the top deck. Many sailboats passed us by and it reminded me of a few famous paintings. Approaching the dock at the end of the cruise took us past a cool lighthouse, at the edge of the harbor.
Lake Michigan View From Navy Pier
Lighthouse On Lake Michigan
The Navy Pier has a full day’s worth of things to do, including an old time Ferris wheel and a shopping mall. A major section of the pier closest to the city is under renovation and should be done soon. Walking down the ramp from the cruise ship was fun as most of the crew were clapping and passing out treats.
Lake Michigan Evening View
It was time to board the bus back to the hotel and plan for my self guided tour around Chicago on the next morning and prepare for my flight to Las Vegas.
Hyatt Place Chicago River North Restaurant
The next morning at the Hyatt Place was teaming with guests enjoying breakfast adjacent to the lobby. I picked out a few morsels like a cheese Danish and some hot oatmeal. After enjoying the food, I needed to get moving.
The Langham Chicago Sign
The Langham Chicago Downstairs Lobby
My first stop was The Langham Chicago. It has a separate entrance for the offices and hotel. The hotel section has nice staff from entryway to Club Lounge. Their lobby, on the second floor, restaurant area and Club Lounge are expansive. One of the city’s famous elongated head sculptures is in the downstairs lobby that welcomes guests.
The Langham Chicago 2nd Story Lobby And City View
The Langham Chicago 2nd Story Glass Art
Some of the same glass artwork from MIX Restaurant, in the Delano Las Vegas, formerly THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, is hanging in the lobby. The Club Lounge on floor 12c has several areas to enjoy.
The Langham Chicago Club Level Library
Going from the far left, which overlooks the city, Chicago River on the way out to Lake Michigan and leather chairs with a desk and retro typewriter. The corner area that has views facing south and east have couches with coffee tables. Transitioning into the next room of the Club Lounge, I found elegant tables for four people each.
The Langham Chicago Club Level Lounge
All have access Langham’s food presentations throughout the day. The last area of the Club Lounge has another sitting area where guests can enjoy a snack or a book. It was very tranquil there. Going to the West facing area transitions into the bar and restaurants.
The Langham Chicago Club Level Periscope
Living in a travel destination, I have seen amazing penthouses and five star hotels. Langham’s Club Lounge ranks near the top for their elegance and views. I only wish I had time to try a few snacks.
The Langham and Trump Chicago
The Trump Chicago was the next hotel I wanted to check out as it’s across the street from The Langham. The Trump is setup as a hotel with conference spaces and residences.
Trump Chicago Large Marquee Sign
It has been in the news recently for the installation of a marque sign on the southeast facing side. A few residents of Chicago have said that it is too large. When I was cruising on Lake Michigan, I could clearly see it from the ship.
Trump Chicago Hotel Lobby
Trump Chicago Lake Michigan View
Trump Chicago Round Conference Room
Trump Chicago Tower
After going inside, I was greeted immediately, just like it should be at top tier hotels. I took their elevator up to the top most floors that I could access. The Veranda restaurant has an outside space only open during certain parts of the day. Their largest conference space is curved and overlooks the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Further to the right, I could see down several of the main streets that cross over the river. They reminded me of what I’ve seen in several older photos of New York City in the 1930’s with amazing vanishing points.
Chicago River Bridge Opening
Crossing the Chicago River, I realized that it was busy with boat traffic. Many of the larger boats are for city tours. Water taxis are a great option for people who want to do a self-guided tour of the riverfront. The price difference is quite large between a tour boat and the water taxi. A local told me that it costs about $6 to take a water taxi.
Chicago Elevated “L” Train
Millennium Park Entrance
Visiting Millennium Park was next on my list. It was a relatively short walk, but I stopped to see the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Park on the South Side of the Chicago River. They have several areas with plaques, POW MIA and USA flags and a Presidential statue with several quotes about our military and Veterans in foreign wars. Crossing the river, I found a part of town that’s covered in tracks for the “L” Train or elevated metro operated by the Chicago Transit Authority.
Cloud Gate or the “Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park
Cloud Gate Tour In Millennium Park
My first sculpture to visit in Millennium Park was the Cloud Gate or “bean.” Anish Kapoor is the artist who designed the 66ft long and 33 high shiny sculpture. It’s comprised of highly polished stainless steel plates that reflect everything around it. I noticed several large elongated head sculptures and fountains when exiting the park.
Jaume Plensa designed both of the crown fountains in the park. They are comprised of two 50 ft glass block towers with a screen inside and a reflecting pool in between for people to enjoy on hot days. The elongated head sculptures located around the park are from the same artist.
The Flamingo in Chicago’s Federal Plaza
The Willis Tower and Skydeck Chicago were next on my list after Millennium Park. I happened upon a large sculpture along the way called The Flamingo by Alexander Calder. The Flamingo is located in Federal Plaza. The plaza was also the site where a Thai Festival was happening.
Welcome To The Thai Festival
It was a spicy event in the morning, but a fun respite from walking around in the high humidity. They had multiple food vendors surrounding their main stage where authentic Thai dancers performed.
Willis Tower Chicago Skydeck Skyscraper Entrance
The Willis Tower was only a few blocks away and the entrance for the Skydeck elevator is located on its east side. There I found a mini bus on the sidewalk selling tickets to bus tours around the city. This isn’t where visitors buy tickets to go up to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower.
I entered the tower and went to a set of elevators that go down several floors. From there I snaked through multiple stanchions, a metal detector and finally arrived to a ticket window. This is where you make the decision to buy a fast or standard pass to the top.
Visiting the Willis Tower during the week at this early hour afforded me the chance to buy a regular ticket without a wait. They have a movie area to learn more about when, who and why the Sears Tower was built. It was calculated over several months that Sears, Roebuck and Co would need four million square feet to house all of their employees under one roof past the late 1960’s.
Willis Tower Chicago Skydeck Glass Tower Representations
The movie room is where the line separates from standard to fast pass ticket holders. The final room before where the elevators are located that go to the top, have glass representations of other buildings to compare to the Willis Tower.
Willis Tower And Chicago Skydeck Tour
Now in the last elevator, a large monitor showed us which structures we were passing along the way up to the 103rd floor. The trip to the top takes about a minute and goes at 24 ft per second.
Willis Tower Chicago Skydeck And A Green Roof
The entire 103rd floor atop the Willis Tower is reserved for sightseeing. Being able to see Chicago from 1,353 feet is truly an eye opening experience. And then there are the glass boxes overlooking the city that have been in the news recently.
Willis Tower Chicago Skydeck Fog
There are four of them in total. While it’s true that they are made out of glass, it has multiple layers. Think about it like this. Most glass on smartphones is made of strong Gorilla glass. A lot of us buy an extra layer of Gorilla glass to place on top. That’s what the glass in each box has. The protective layer is clear and is meant to keep the underlying glass free from scratches and dings.
Stepping out into the box was one of a few personal highlights from my trip to Chicago. Usually when I’m this high, I can feel the building moving slightly from the wind. This was the most sturdy building observation deck I have experienced.
Willis Tower Chicago Skydeck Glass Box Storm View
For people who want to see multiple areas of Chicago, the Hyatt Place is the hotel central to activities. I was able to visit the Langham Chicago, Trump Chicago, Broadcasters Museum and Theater, Millennium Park with its Cloud Gate or “Bean,” 2014 Thai Festival at Federal Plaza with its red Flamingo steel art and the Willis Tower with its 103rd floor SkyDeck all before my car service back to the airport.
Chicago did live up to being the Windy City. On my way out of town on American Airlines, several strong storm cells moved in over the airport in sequence. The storm made my airplane over four hours late to depart. But it was ok, that meant more time to talk with people that were delayed and get some work done.
Chicago O’Hare Airport American Terminal K
Unfortunately, the American Terminal K doesn’t have free WiFi. Fortunately, I brought a hotspot that was able to get signal. My flight from Chicago’s ORD airport on American was quite the ride. We waited on the runway for a half hour before the Captain said we were going to go.
Chicago “L” Train Under The Tracks
We lined up on the runway, hit the brake and revved up the jet engines. The airplane gained enough velocity on takeoff to immediately bank left and avoid most of the bad weather on the way back to Las Vegas. The flight offered Gogo’s in-flight WiFi, which was fitting after touring their HQ a day earlier. It was a nice contrast to not having any access on my United Airlines flight to Chicago.
Chicago’s Skyline From Lake Michigan
I look forward to visiting Chicago again soon. It offered a Midwest big city feel with many skyscrapers and friendly people. The area North of the Chicago River contains several tourist spots, smaller pub style restaurants and hip shopping places. Gogo has a bright future in the in-flight WiFi business. I can’t wait to see what they do next.