I wrote a previous post about access to internet services, and one about why it’s so expensive to fly. Today, I’m going to combine those topics and explore access to wifi on airplanes. In 2017, you would think that wifi on airplanes would be provided. Maybe a small fee… or maybe a fee incorporated into the price of your ticket. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. As of right now, there are only 8 airlines that offer free wifi, and only one of those is a local American airline – JetBlue. There are other airlines that offer internet access, but not free. Have a look at the full list of airlines who provide internet access.
Now I don’t fly a lot, due to the cost. But when I do fly, I like the convenience of being able to interact with the real world. Some like to use the time on a flight to disconnect from their lives, but I see it as an opportunity to be productive. Maybe that’s a sign that I need the time to disconnect, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. Could I live without it? Of course. But do I want to? We are starting to see wifi access in other forms of transportation, such as trains, buses and even cars. So why is it so difficult to have on an airplane? Especially when there is no other option to connect. If you’re in a car, bus or train there is a good chance you have access to your phone’s data. But not on a plane.
As far as the technology goes – it seems like this might be holding airlines back. In order to access the internet, your device needs to connect to a mobile broadband tower, or a satellite. And which option you use depends on how high you are flying mostly. Flying over a large body of water, for example would require you to connect to a satellite. According to the Telegraph, the United States has the most comprehensive infrastructure which makes the prices cheaper than in Europe, but it also makes access faster. But does it? A satellite connection allows you to connect at 12 Mbps on an airplane, which is still significantly lower than the average of about 20 Mbps on a mobile device.
So, as it stands, is it worth the cost? Air Canada offers wifi services through Gogo, like many other airlines. The cost ranges from $5/hour to $14.95 for the day. Or if you’re a frequent flyer, you can opt for a monthly, unlimited package around $50. For a short flight, the answer is probably no. But maybe if you fly around the country a lot, and like me, feel that you need to be productive, perhaps it is worth the cost.
But there is something to be said about disconnecting. We are constantly inundated by our email, voicemail, text messages and social media so maybe buying the in-flight wifi isn’t worth the cost. Especially at the speeds that are being offered. I think that it will take some time, but the technology and the speeds will improve. The only downside to that is the consumer will end up paying for it, and we will see ticket prices going up again. What’s interesting, and what I would like to explore more is how JetBlue can offer this service and still offer competitive rates? A quick search for a flight using JetBlue versus another airline (all things equal), and JetBlue is considerable less expensive.
I find myself being surprised by some of the technological advancements that we’ve made over the years. And find myself equally surprised when we seem to be struggling in other areas. Maybe I take access to internet for granted, and view it more as a necessity. It’s something that I need in order to function, but to some it is still a luxury. And maybe still considered a luxury during a flight. While I don’t necessarily think that it should be available in all planes and on all flights, I do think that it would benefit some. Maybe the bigger question is whether or not to use that time to disconnect? I don’t think I have the answer to that, but am curious to see if in-flight wifi becomes more common, or if we start to see a shift to free wifi services.