Dec 28, 2011

How well does in-flight WiFi work?

I have a business trip scheduled to Frankfurt next month and was thinking of turning the flight over into a working event instead of our normal transcontinental Mad Men style multi-hour cocktail party. Does anyone have any experience with in-flight Wi-Fi? Does it work well enough to actually use for work, which would probably consist mostly of exchanging/editing text documents, email and Skype, or should I just go ahead and order another Manhattan?


I have used GoGo on multiple trips and have had absolutely no issues. That being said my monthly commute was from Dallas to SFO and back. I have never tried on an intercontinental flight. American doesn't have WiFi on all of their planes yet. The only US carrier that does I believe is the newer US Virgin airline. I say go for the Manhattan (people still drink those? lol) :)


I meant transcontinental. That's what I get for multitasking.


GoGo is the only in-flight WiFi that I have ever used, and I'm not even sure that other services are available.  I used it after an acquaintance raved about using it on a flight and claimed it was great.  Maybe it was for him, but my experience was not very positive.  I had trouble connecting and when I did gain a connection, it was far less reliable than I get at a place like Starbucks or McDonalds.  Of course, Mickey Dees isn't cruising along at 30,000 feet, which could make a difference.  My experience was on a domestic flight so it might differ on intercontinental flights.  It was acceptable for non-multimedia internet use, but that was about it.  I think that VoIP may have been blocked, but even if it wasn't, I can't imagine the quality being good enough to use anyway.  The cost was pretty reasonable for something related to airlines, if I recall correctly I spent less than $20 on it.  If I had an expense account that covered it, I would be more inclined to close my laptop and order up one of those Manhattans and raise a glass to Sterling-Cooper.

I suspect that your mileage may vary depending on the airline. Here's an interesting story about ten things related to in-flight wi-fi. Apparently it's not much of a big deal just yet.

10 Big Points About In-Flight Wi-Fi From Gogo’s IPO Filing

"Big picture: Most planes still don’t have wi-fi and most passengers still don’t buy it. With roughly 355 million passengers having flown on Gogo-enabled planes since 2008, Gogo has only provided 15 million sessions — about 4% take-up. I’d estimate that the average flight gets somewhere between 2-10 connections, depending on time of day, capacity, route, percentage of seats filled, etc. With more people getting smartphones, iPads, etc., and with Gogo starting to offer more services, it seems that rate should grow.

Gogo isn’t profitable yet and its revenue per passenger is still low, through growing. But if it can get more money per passenger, more passenger sign-ups, and more planes in its fleet — without major technical or regulatory problems, or competition — it seems that becoming profitable is eventually possible."
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