Every day, more aircraft are being outfitted with systems that allow in-flight connectivity, but aIl such services are not created equal. As I experience the different services, I will compare and contrast, and share what I find.
My most recent connection
from 34,000 feet was made via Southwest Airlines’ in-flight Wi-Fi system on a
flight from Seattle (SEA) to Sacramento (SMF). Like most in-flight systems I’ve
encountered, Southwest does not offer access to applications that use a
significant amount of bandwidth like streaming music or video or Skype chats,
but for $8, I was connected – after a fashion – and was able to do a few basic
Speakeasy.net/speedtest. While I could check and send text-only e-mails, forget
about opening attachments or visiting web sites that have more than a minimal
level of graphics.
Other services I’ve used
recently did better.
On a recent United Airlines
flight between Seattle (SEA) and Chicago (ORD), I got about 0.6 Mbps download
speed and 0.1 upload speed when using the United Wi-Fi service offered on that
flight. Not lightning-fast, but about triple the speed of the Southwest service
and pretty decent considering I was at 35,000 feet over southern Minnesota.
In addition, United also
offers GoGo Inflight Internet service on all of its Boeing 757 aircraft on
p.s.® premium service transcontinental flights between New York (JFK) and both
Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), so United passengers will encounter
Two of my recent experiences
with GoGo yielded dramatically different results. I purchased a 90-minute pass
for $10 on a flight from Seattle (SEA) to San Antonio (SAT) in January and a
similar pass for my return flight. While service on the flight out was about as
expected, the connection on the return flight was so slow that I could only
access the starting page of the web sites I was trying to visit, making the
service essentially useless. However, a quick e-mail to GoGo customer service
upon my return brought an apology and a credit toward future service.
In December, I was treated
to Lufthansa’s Wi-Fi when I traveled between SEA and Frankfurt (FRA). On most
Lufthansa flights, a satellite-based service called FlyNet connects to a
Deutsche Telecom Hot Spot, providing passengers complimentary Internet access
once the plane has reached cruising altitude and is outside U.S. airspace. In
keeping with that connectedness, I posted my original entry from 38,000 feet as
we were passing over Hudson’s Bay in Canada.
While I was not able to
obtain a precise connection speed, it seemed to be about 0.5 Mbps or 0.6 Mbps,
the same as United’s WiFi and slightly slower than the 1.0 Mbps Internet
connection speed at most of the hotels I’ve visited recently.
Although slow service can be
frustrating, bear in mind that there are many things that will affect the speed
of your connection.
Different services use
different technologies for connecting. United’s Wi-Fi is satellite-based,
while GoGo uses a hybrid of satellite and ground-based cell phone technologies.
Different technologies vary in efficiency.
Connection speed also
depends on how many of your fellow passengers have logged on; after all, you’re
sharing that single connection between the plane and the Internet, and that
connection has limited throughput.
Cost is also an area where
the services differ.
Most services offer options:
either the full duration of the flight or a specific period of time. For my
last Gogo connection, I chose a special rate for my 90-minute package:Buy 60 minutes at $9.95 and get 30 minutes
free. On Southwest, the $8 rate covered the entire flight, which was about 1
hour, 45 minutes. Inexplicably, United charged $8.99 for one direction between
SEA and ORD, and $9.99 for the other direction. But with flights of about four
hours, I thought either rate was very reasonable indeed.
Lufthansa, as noted,
provides complimentary Internet access.
As of March 1. Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) began offering passengers aboard select
international flights the option of purchasing Internet access via its new ANA
Wi-Fi Service. Unlike many in-flight plans that charge by the amount of time
used, ANA’s plan charges by the amount of data transmitted. ANA offers three
plans that allow 5 MB, 10 MB or 20 MB of data at a cost of US$6, US$12, or
US$24, respectively. ANA’s service also includes free news content from wire
I suspect we’ll see more and
better connectivity as the market penetration of such services increases. If
we’re fortunate, we’ll also enjoy lower prices.
Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.