In this day and age, most people expect constant access to Wi-Fi—both on the ground and up in the air. Surprisingly, airline Wi-Fi in 2017 still feels like a luxury. If you want to watch YouTube or get some work done during your next airplane flight, you better choose an airline with an excellent onboard wireless internet connection.
GoGo vs ViaSat
The technology that makes onboard Wi-Fi internet access possible doesn’t differ too much from the technology that delivers wireless internet on the ground because airplanes often use the same ground antennas and the same satellites as mobile internet providers.
Currently, GoGo and ViaSat are two leading providers of in-flight broadband internet service and other connectivity services for commercial and business aircraft. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, GoGo has a 51 percent market share in North America and contracts with 17 commercial airlines. GoGo uses a number of different technologies, including a cellular radio network and satellites, to offer peak speeds of up to 70 Mbit/s and average download speeds of around 12 Mbit/s.
Last year, ViaSat, a provider of high-speed satellite broadband services and secure networking systems covering military and commercial markets, has caused GoGo’s stocks to plummet by 16 percent after the company won a contract to equip American Airlines’ new fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with satellite internet access. ViaSat has one satellite in orbit, with two additional satellites already being scheduled for launch in the near future. Together, the satellites are expected to surpass the 1-terabit milestone and offer much faster download and upload speeds than any technology on the market.
Best In-Flight Wi-Fi Internet Airlines
We based our list of airlines with best in-flight Wi-Fi internet access on available seat-miles with a chance of getting a wireless connection as well as the price, the available payment options, and customer reviews.
JetBlue made headlines earlier this year when it became the first airline to offer free wireless internet access on all flights. The service is called Fly-Fi, and passengers are allowed to take advantage of it from the moment they board the plane until the moment the plane touches down at its destination. The only caveat is that the service is currently available only over the contiguous U.S.
JetBlue has partnered with Amazon to bring the full Amazon experience onboard, including streaming and shopping. To give something back to their customers, JetBlue is giving out 3 TrueBlue points per $1 spent shopping on Amazon. The points can be redeemed for JetBlue flights or donated to contribute to great causes.
Virgin America has reached full adoption rates, and the airline now offers fleetwide wireless internet access. Their A320 aircraft use ViaSat satellite-based in-flight internet service, which offers broadband internet speeds that are 8 to 9 times faster than other in-flight technologies. The rest of their fleet uses GoGo’s ATG-4 Ground-Based Wi-Fi service, which still offers decent speeds, depending on the number of users.
Unlike JetBlue, Virgin America charges fees for in-flight internet access. They start at around $5 and go all the way up to around $40. It’s worth noting that on some flights the internet service isn’t available for the entire duration of the flight. For example, on flights from SFO to SJD and PVR, both Satellite TV and Internet services are available for roughly one hour of the flight, but then unavailable for two hours.
Delta Airline is using GoGo’s 2Ku satellite-based system to offer internet speeds of around 100Mbp/s per plane. Theoretically, over 30 people could be watching Netflix at the same time, and nobody would experience any slowdowns.
To access Delta’s onboard Wi-Fi, passengers must purchase the Delta Wi-Fi Pass and pay around $19.95 for an hour and $39.95 per flight on a laptop or tablet. The only site that can be accessed free of charge is Delta’s in-flight Wi-Fi portal.
Airline to Avoid for In-Fight Wi-Fi Internet
The sad reality is that not all airlines have realized that most people are connected to the internet around the clock.
American Airline stands out as the least progressive airline when it comes to onboard internet access. It’s true that they were GoGo’s first customer, but everything went downhill from there. American Airline airplanes still use the outdated ATG-4 technology, which delivers only 9.8Mbp/s per plane. But that doesn’t stop the company from charging $49.95 plus tax for their monthly subscription or $16 plus tax for their all-day pass. If you expect hassle-free onboard wireless connectivity, avoid American Airline at all cost.