In-flight Wi-fi: How good is it? | Cowork7/24 Blog
Future of Work

What’s Up With In-Flight Wi-Fi?

May 25, 2018

It’s no doubt that when Wilbur and Orville Wright were flying the world’s first airplane for 59 seconds in 1903, they were not anticipating an experience of flying over the Atlantic Ocean eating chicken and vegetables, sipping a beer, and responding to e-mail, let alone did they know what an e-mail is, but that’s precisely what  has  happened.

Currently, in-flight wi-fi is available on nearly all US domestic flights, and in a rapidly increasing number of European airlines and flights all over the world allowing us to stay connected as much as we need it. According to Routehappy, “airline passengers worldwide now have a 39% chance of stepping aboard a Wi-Fi equipped flight.”  As the technology evolves rapidly, airlines are looking for their own place in the competition, either via innovation, coverage or price. JetBlue has rolled out its own proprietary technology. Known as the world’s largest in-flight wifi provider GOGO has been approved for installation on select aircrafts flying over China (Hainan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines).  However, how much does it cost? Is it worth the money for the budget-traveler ? We’ve done a little research for you!


Each Airline has developed their own pricing scheme

The cost of connecting your device may be worthwhile to those using it for business purposes and are willing to pay to stay productive, but otherwise you might prefer to stay offline. Costs to connect on an international flight range from roughly $7 an hour to $20-$30 for 24 hours, though your effective usage is limited to 8-9 hours (who flies for the full 24 hours ?). Each Airline has developed their own pricing scheme, making it harder to compare apples to apples, but there are typically options to pay just hourly or for select services. For example, GOGO-equipped flights (including American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin America, and more) offer a variety of purchase options: $7 for a 1-hour pass, $19 for an All-Day Pass, $49.95 for a Monthly Plan, and $719 for an Annual Plan. Lufthansa Airlines features in-flight wifi beginning at €3 for messaging, €7 for web surfing, and €12 for streaming access. Prices jump to €17 for longhaul international flights. The budget airline Norwegian, the first European airline to offer in-flight wi-fi, even offers free domestic wi-fi access, although it only permits web surfing, and not streaming.


It’s public wi-fi and certain security measures should be followed

It’s crucial to remember using wi-fi on an airplane is like using it at a bus station, a coffee shop, or any hostel. It’s public wi-fi and certain security measures should be followed. Dave Dean, who is the authority behind Too Many Adapters, and posts a regular installment on NomadicMatt, reminds us that, “In terms of security, people should treat in-flight Wi-fi just like any other public network…in other words, don’t trust it. Using a VPN is vital, and because the connection isn’t as stable as usual, the VPN software should be set to automatically reconnect if it drops.” In his Tech Guide for Travelers, he offers a couple VPN recommendations: Witopia ($6/mo), Tunnelbear (Basic – Free), and Cyberghost (Basic – Free)

To be the most productive using the plane’s wi-fi, stick to simple, web-based tasks. Attempting to stream video or build a website will likely leave you frustrated by slow speeds, or the probability that the wi-fi will drop in and out. In-flight wifi connects to the internet either by satellite or connecting to broadband cell towers on the ground (ATG). The downsides of connecting to cell towers are instances of flying over water or deserts, but switching to satellites means much slower speeds. Airlines are improving access each year, but it’s still far from perfect. Therefore, organize your schedule so you can spend the flight responding to emails, or conducting research on the web. You can use being in-flight to your advantage by avoiding distractions normally present on the ground.

However, there is always the option of having the ability to connect, but choosing not to anyways. Perhaps reserve your time in the air for offline tasks like reading Tolstoy, listening to music, drawing a picture, meditating, or just catching up on sleep. It’s a good excuse to disconnect, and airlines have already anticipated some of the problems caused by internet access by banning wi-fi based phone calls, to keep some of the magic present in flying. After all, is nothing sacred?

Cost of In-Flight Wifi on Laptops for Major Airlines

Our table shows prices at the time we did the research. Always refer to the airline’s website for most up-to-date prices.

American Airlines$4.95- $17.95, based on specific markets, + Gogo monthly passes
Southwest Airlines$5.00 per day, or $2 only for messaging.
Virgin America$4.95 – $17.95, based on the amount of time. Also covered via GoGo
Emirates$15.00 per flight, or 20MB for Free
Lufthansa€10.95 – €19.95 based on amount of time
Delta$12.00 for 24h + Gogo passes
Air Canada$9.95 per flight
UnitedStandard Gogo passes
KLM€9.95 – €19.95 based on amount of data
Qatar Airways$5.00 – $20.00 based on amount of time
Turkish AirlinesStart from $9.99 an hour, to $14.99 for 24 hours. Free for Frequent Travelers

This article was written by Joseph Shiovitz.

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  • Reply Nathan Parker May 28, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    It’s not very easy to find a VPN which would nicely work on flights. I use NordVPN and can say that at first did not know how to use it but after contacting their support my experience changed. Basically you just need to switch on TCP and obfuscated servers and vuola. I’m using Nord because of the great feedback I see online on their security. They never had any scandals about DNS leakings, logs or something.

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    In-flight Wi-fi: How good is it? | Cowork7/24 Blog