Things you need to know about in-flight Internet connectivity in the U.S.

Things you need to know about in-flight Internet connectivity in the U.S.

When we see crowded airports across the United States, we also presence masses of people that crave to stay connected. Connectivity is a widespread aspect of modern times, where Wi-Fi spots abound everywhere: in cafes, public buildings, buses, trains, airports. Internet is all around us, and we want even more. And more means checking emails, getting social network updates and browsing, and all while flying. In-flight Internet access is getting more common since it is regarded by airlines as a great opportunity to increase their income. As stated on one of the most prominent air travel analytics website, Routehappy, airlines Internet coverage in the United States is 78% of available seat miles, unlike non U.S. companies with coverage of just 24% of available seat miles. A key responsible for these numbers in the United States is Gogo (a company which founded in-flight Internet industry in 2008), which is present in nearly 72% of every commercial airplane that offers the service.

Current in-flight Internet experiences will vary depending on the airline you are flying with. You could either watch your favorite series in Netflix with practically no interruptions or get extremely frustrated unsuccessfully trying to upload a file your boss needs urgently. This basically depends on the type of connection the airplane uses (it could be either from orbiting satellites above or ground cell towers from below), and the type of antennas it is equipped with. Having this in mind, connection speeds varies from 3 Mbps up to 70 Mbps of shared capacity, not only sharing with the other passengers, also from the planes that fly through the same airspace. In terms of money you could end up spending from $10 to $30 for the whole flight time on a very low speed Internet connection or the opposite, when airlines offer free Internet at speeds close to 10 Mbps, without content restrictions.

Different in-flight Internet providers in the United States

Gogo: as mentioned before, Gogo is in almost 72% of every commercial carrier offering the in-flight service. The initial idea behind Gogo is that executive travelers will pay any price to work while flying, since bills are paid by their employers. The company relies mainly on ground cell towers, but has started using satellite technology for greater speeds.

ViaSat: the company redefines in-flight connectivity since they have Ku-based satellite services, providing amounts of bandwidth that let everyone use the Internet without any shortage in capacity. Another big difference is the way they sell the service. Gogo charge passengers and gives the airlines an amount. Viasat charge the airline and it is up to them to transfer the cost to the final users. ViaSat’s main U.S. customer is JetBlue.

GEE: Global Eagle Entertainment uses Ku-band satellites. It supports a bandwidth close to 40 Mbps total, with usual restrictions due to network sharing. GEE powers Southwest, and they charge $8 per day for the access.    

Panasonic eXConnect: also uses Ku-band satellites to deliver broadband connectivity to aircraft. As seen on seat-back screens, Panasonic is in the hardware business, so the company funds the cost of Internet connectivity to the airlines they have a contract with. The company buys more capacity from satellites than the others, so their service is also faster.  

Air Traffic_aviation law_flight Internet connectivity_shahram shirkhani
Image courtesy of jqpubliq at Flickr.com

Airlines Internet providers and general costs

Alaska (provider: Gogo). Almost total availability on the 48 states, as well as specific areas of Alaska. Rates vary depending on your preferences: all-day passes will be $16, hour passes $5 and a Multi-Airline pass per month $59.95.

American (provider: Gogo). They say availability on their flights is almost total. Prices as discussed before.  

Delta (provider: Gogo). Check for availability on your flight on the booking process. Prices as discussed before.

Frontier (provider: Gogo). Only available when flying on its Embraer 190. Prices as discussed before.

Hawaiian (not currently available)

JetBlue (provider: ViaSat). Free on every plane, for checking emails and simple web browsing. A $9 per-hour plan is available for movie streaming with up to 12 Mbps.

Southwest (provider: GEE). Available on more than 400 planes. $8 per day  and additional $5 per movie. Travelers using iMessage cant text at $2.

Spirit (not currently available)

United (provider: Gogo). Available on some flights. Currently changing to satellite in-flight Wi-Fi. Fees are established during booking.

Virgin America (provider: Gogo). Available on all flights within U.S. Prices as discussed before.

In conclusion, paying more is not a guarantee of an adequate connection while you fly. However, the tendency for the foreseeable future is that in-flight connectivity is becoming faster and more reliable since better aircraft are available. While Internet is a modern necessity, competition among companies will necessarily force them to try to stand out from the others, then, providing a good quality in-flight service could be very helpful.       

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