In-Flight WiFi? Why Not?

In-Flight WiFi? Why Not?

GoGo laptop-user-2_0
(Gogo Photo)

If you’re like me, you are used to accessing the Internet through a Wi-Fi “hot spot” at home, in coffee shops, stores, hotels, and other public places.

So installing Wi-Fi capability on commercial airliners—at least aboard ones that fly only over land and not the broad oceans—ought to be a piece of cake.

But apparently that isn’t so.

According to this recent story in The New York Times, Wi-Fi is offered on less than 25 percent of all U.S. domestic flights. And despite our seemingly insatiable demand to stay “connected” during every waking our, most airline passengers don’t want in-flight Internet access or are unwilling to pay much for it.

GoGohdtowersandplane1_0
(Gogo Photo)

The Times reports that Delta has the most Wi-Fi equipped planes in this U.S., followed by American and Southwest. Of the carriers mentioned in the story United had installed Wi-Fi systems on the fewest planes, a mere 50. Many carriers use Gogo’s air-to-ground system to allow passengers to connect to the Internet in-flight.

But if I can simply plug a $99 Apple “AirPort Express” gadget into my cable modem and use two computers, an iPad, and two iPhones to wirelessly Web surf, watch YouTube videos, and send and receive e-mail, why can’t an airline just go to the Apple Store, plunk down a few bucks, and “Wi-Fi up” all of its planes now?

As this video shows, even if it only seems to take just a couple of minutes or so, installing Wi-Fi on a plane is just a tad more complicated that setting up a hotspot in your home.

httpvh://youtu.be/eFvwtfxPwac
 A few years ago when Southwest was testing out Wi-Fi on a few of its aircraft, I got a chance to use it for free on a Phoenix to Oakland flight. These days, it will costs you $8/day per device to logon after your Southwest flight reaches an altitude of 10,000 feet.

But you can’t find out if the Southwest jet you’ll be on has Wi-Fi at the time of booking; you have to check that out at this page of the airline’s Website within 24 hours of your flight’s scheduled departure.

If you just gotta know if that plane is gonna have Wi-Fi before you book your flight, try Routehappy.com. That site lets you filter flight search results based on these “Happiness factors”: “Nicer planes,” “Roomier seats,” “High flyer rating,” “Wi-Fi,” “Best Entertainment,” and “In-seat power.”

For an upcoming flight between San Francisco and San Diego, Routehappy told me that in coach on 13 of the 17 flights it listed for that route in-flight Wi-Fi was offered, while it was only “maybe” for the other 4. However, in-seat power would only be available on 8 of the 13 Wi-Fi enabled aircraft, all operated by American or Virgin America. (Southwest does not appear to be one of the airlines whose flights are listed by Routehappy.com.)

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Last month Readwrite.com asked (and attempted to answer) the question of which of 11 airlines serving the U.S. provides the best Wi-Fi connection.

The bottom line: When you fly, whether “Web surf’s up!” is still up in the air.

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