Chargeable Inflight Internet – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Data Connections In The Skies

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Most major international airlines are now offering paid Wifi on board their aircraft which passengers can purchase in order to do some work, use social media or otherwise just surf around the internet.

These paid Wifi options can vary greatly in price and also network quality as well as black out areas where the flight path leads over countries where the inflight wifi support if prohibited (India, China etc).

When I took my United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong yesterday I wasn’t expecting much but the high price of $29.99 for the entire duration of the flight proved to be a worthwhile investment as I had a very reliable connection throughout the flight.

United Airlines uses a Panasonic platform that doesn’t allow for the use of roaming partners such as Boingo, Gogo, US Mobile, T-Mobile etc. Meaning the popular hotspot monthly flat rates can not be utilized on United Airlines flights. Too bad! I was also offered to use something like close to 5,000 Mileage Plus miles for the payment which is a stupid ratio and makes absolutely no sense unless you have a dormant account you want to draw on.

I have had mixed results with inflight Internet on various carriers the past year. Here some examples:

  • American Airlines PVG-LAX: Horrible connection even after leaving Chinese airspace
  • American Airlines DFW-HKG: Again horrible the connection interrupted constantly (AA uses T-Mobile)
  • Qatar Airways (various flights): A complete and utter disaster, probably the worst inflight wifi available
  • Emirates: Worked (various flights): Worked well and pricing is reasonable
  • Lufthansa: Reasonable charges of 19,95 EUR per flight (use of hotspot pass possible) and reliable
  • Singapore Airlines: Confusing as they use different systems for A380 and B777, also horribly overpriced and lots of interruptions.

If you find yourself purchasing a pass for the entire flight and have plenty of interruptions I encourage you to contact the providers customer service and request a refund. Make sure you take screenshots to back up your claim. I’ve always gotten a refund in really bad cases.

What I absolutely can’t stand are airlines that charge by MB volume and often such obscene prices that it makes zero sense to use it. Sometimes premium passengers get a voucher for like 20 MB but what’s that really going to do? 20MB are gone almost as soon as I switch on my phone.

Then you have airlines such as British Airways, Qantas and even Air Canada who don’t even equip their newest planes with on board wifi. My Air Canada Narita-Vancouver flight was operated by a brand new Dreamliner and sure enough no internet on board.

Conclusion

The investment of roughly $30 on my United flight gave my pretty much 14 hours where I could do productive things instead of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs. I have no problem at all paying that price if it’s a reasonable and especially reliable service. Think about it, that about $2 per hour and should be an absolute no brainer especially on flights that are pretty much daytime and you won’t sleep in order to keep your jetlag at a minimum (SFO-HKG leaves at 1:20pm and arrives at 6:45pm which is perfect if you don’t sleep much on the flight).

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