A Guide To In-Flight Wi-Fi And Power Outlets

BrentDPayne, Flickr

In-flight internet access is on the up and up. Thanks to a list compiled by Lifehacker, it’s now easy to get a glimpse of just how much progress has been made over the past few years. It looks like AirTran and Virgin America are the best bets for in-flight Wi-Fi, while United Airlines is the worst. According to the company’s website, only 59 of the airline’s 700+ planes have Wi-Fi.

We did a little more digging to find out exactly where airline Wi-Fi stands (prices are for domestic flights), and here’s what we came up with:

*These fleets are serviced by Gogo Inflight Internet. Frequent fliers will want to consider buying a Gogo pass, which can cover all flights in a day or month. Since the majority of airlines use Gogo, one pass could cover multiple legs of a trip — even if different airlines are used.

It is also important to note that even if the airplane you’re flying has Wi-Fi, every seat may not have access to a power outlet. No airline has yet ensured outlets at each seat, but Seat Guru has documented where the power outlets are in each type of aircraft. Additionally, you’ll want to check and make sure you have the right adaptor, or you might find it difficult to get some work done at 10,000 feet.

FCC Wants More Wi-Fi In The Sky

The convenience of sky-high connectivity has not been lost on the broadband overlords at the FCC, who have moved to open up new frequencies for in-air data use. Current offerings use around 3 MHz of bandwidth, but the FCC envisions opening up 500 MHz of bandwidth to provide passengers much faster speeds and better connection consistency.

This has been, obviously, a long time coming. The current speed, quality and price of Wi-Fi connections on planes are reminiscent of the dial-up days. To boot, most in-flight Wi-Fi is only available over the continental US, with only a few services running very expensive satellite-based signals that provide Wi-Fi over the oceans. Only a few people have really cottoned on to the service. Virgin says only 12 percent to 15 percent of its passengers use Wi-Fi, which is probably higher than the industry average. More than the spotty, lag-heavy service, it’s the cost of it ($14 per flight with Gogo, a service provider) that puts off most consumers, who have had ubiquitous free Wi-Fi for so long that paying for it seems like a rip-off at any price point.

Well, what consumer wants, consumer gets. We’re not turning our devices off like we’re supposed to anyway. 500 MHz of bandwidth will allow higher-quality service, and more importantly room for competition. And the free market will do the rest, maybe. At the very least we will be able to Instagram our in-flight meals with no lag before long, even if it’s costing us $14 to do it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Daquella manera]

Galley Gossip: Can Passengers View Pornography on the Airplane?

From time to time I get questions from readers who want to know what the rules are regarding viewing pornography in flight now that Wi-Fi is available on board most airplanes. Thankfully, it hasn’t been much of an issue (knock on wood). But planes are crowded, personal space barely exits, and when passengers do things they shouldn’t, well, they usually get caught.

Last week on a flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale, a coworker had to ask a 10-year-old boy to turn off the erotica and to fasten his seatbelt. On either side of him sat his younger brother and sister. Across the aisle were his parents who had no idea what was going on until we informed them why he may have been holding the computer screen so close to his face. On a different flight another passenger was caught reading a Playboy Magazine. Next to him sat his young son. What gave this man away was the opened centerfold he was eyeing up and down. When a flight attendant politely asked him to put it away, he yelled at her for embarrassing him.

How common is it to see someone watching something rather risqué on a laptop, iPad, tablet or even the in-flight entertainment system in the air? I can only think of a few instances I’ve seen something that might raise a few eyebrows. When this happens, I’ll gently inform the passenger that there are children on board and remind them that other passengers seated nearby might find what they’re viewing distasteful. Nine times out of ten they’ll either fast forward through the scene or turn it off – end of story.Do passengers ever complain about the content of something that a different passenger is watching? I’ve never had anyone rat someone out for watching pornography in flight. But I do get a lot of complaints about kids watching movies or playing video games that are too loud. Most parents forget to bring headphones for their little ones. I always hate having to tell a nice family to turn it down, but rules are rules and they apply to everyone, even those under 2 feet tall.

Is there a firm policy on how to handle passengers who are watching adult content openly? Pornography is not allowed on the airplane. If a flight attendant does come across it, we’ll discreetly ask the passenger to put it away. If that doesn’t work, we might issue a written warning. The warning informs the passenger what will happen if they choose not to comply. Refusing to obey crew instruction is a federal offense.

[Photo courtesy: Bekathwia
]

Gogo Unveils New In-Flight Wireless: Boasts 3X Improvement In Bandwidth

Gogo’s jet-propelled test lab took flight yesterday with several reporters and one very important fin added to the underbelly of the plane.

On the quick flight across western Illinois, CTO Anand Chari showed off the significant speed increases and signal stability of their new ATG-4 (Air To Ground – 4) wireless system. Initially using the current ATG wireless, pages loaded slowly or timed out completely when a crowded plane was simulated. Switching to the new technology showed speeds reaching closer to the estimated max of 9.7 Mbps. When an additional 15 users were simulated on the plane, loading of pages slowed, but never stalled.

“This is a significant tech advancement,” said CEO Michael Small. “We can serve considerable larger number of passengers – over half the plane [before degradation of the service]. The sky is going to keep growing. We’re on a path to getting full service to a full plane of users.”

Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are still too big of a burden for in-flight connectivity, but the company’s recent release of Gogo Vision offers a nice compromise – 100+ titles to watch streaming on your wireless device for $4.99 a movie or 99 cents a show.

Over 40 planes are already equipped with the ATG-4 technology, with Virgin, Delta and US Airways on board (launches for service on American Airlines and United are expected next year). The company plans to have over 500 planes equipped by the end of 2013.

How do you tell if your plane is equipped with the latest tech? If possible, look under the first third of the plane, near the door – if you can see two fins, the smaller will be the old ATG modem, and the larger will be the ATG-4. In addition, two directional antennae and a second modem will provide another clever bonus – by checking for signal in several directions, the plane will choose the strongest one to use, while the other keeps searching for the next best signal.

[Photo Credits: Dan Morgridge]

Delta gives the gift of free in-flight WiFi

This holiday season, Delta has partnered up with eBay and Gogo to offer travelers 30 minutes of free in-flight wireless Internet on all WiFi-enabled aircraft through January 2.

Connecting is super simple: just open your browser, enter your email address on the promotional page, click the “Give Me Free WiFi” button, and boom — enough free connectivity to check your email and reconfirm your hotel reservation.

While outside websites will shut off after the first half hour, web surfers can continue to shop on eBay.com and interact with delta.com throughout the course of the flight, a part of the promotion obviously geared toward last minute holiday shoppers.


Delta currently has more than 2,500 daily flights on WiFi-outfitted planes, and inflight wireless service generally costs around $12 for a 24-hour pass. Let’s hope next year they feel extra generous and grant us free connections all year ’round.