It is more convenient and more affordable than ever before to stay online while soaring the friendly skies. Many major airlines offer in-flight Internet access, making it easy to access your documents in the cloud, check your social media, and read the latest blog posts from around the web.
The majority of the North American carriers use Gogo Internet for their inflight connectivity, so this is probably the provider you'll find on most of your flights.
Airlines That Offer Gogo
For domestic flights, carriers that use Gogo Air include:
- Alaska Airlines (select flights)
- American Airlines (select flights, including US Airways planes)
- United Airlines (select flights)
- Virgin America (select flights)
For international flights, Gogo carriers include:
- Aeromexico (select flights)
- Air Canada (select flights)
- GOL Linhas Aéreas (select flights)
- Japan Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic (select flights)
- British Airways (select flights)
Internet Access Plans
Gogo offers a number of internet plans that range in price based on the duration of the flight and the carrier itself. If you purchase ahead of time on Gogo's website, you can often save some money. Some of these options include the 1-hour passes at $7.00, all the way up to the Delta Global Day Pass for $28, which is valid for 24 hours of continued connectivity on any Gogo equipped flight operated by Delta Airlines.
There are also subscription options, like the monthly airline plan that includes access on domestic Gogo equipped flights for $49.95, or the Global Delta Plan for $69.95, which would give you domestic and international access on Gogo equipped flights operated by Delta Airlines. There is also a $599 annual airline plan for access on domestic flights with your favorite airline.
Restrictions and Limitations
There are certain things you cannot do with Gogo. You cannot use streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu. They also disallow VoIP calls, video conferencing, Skype, Facetime, and other similar applications.
To check what options are available on your flight, check the airline's website app 24-48 hours ahead of your scheduled departure time. On United Airlines for example, check the Amenities section after finding your specific flight. If Gogo is the provider, you can purchase your day pass ahead of time, which can save you up to 60%. If you have a US T-Mobile plan, you can use free Wi-Fi for an hour, plus texting, picture messaging, and access to T-Mobile Visual Voicemail on Gogo-enabled flights.
Southwest Airlines offers Wi-Fi on board for a flat rate of $8 US per device. This gives you access to email, social media networks, web browsing, and VPN access. They limit access to high bandwidth applications and websites like Netflix, HBO Go, and VoIP. You can watch movies for $5 per movie, per device.
To find out whether your Southwest flight has Wi-Fi, visit their Wi-Fi Finder within 24 hours of departure, enter your confirmation number, and your first and last name.
Airlines With Free In-Flight Wi-Fi
While paid internet is the way most airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, there are a few carriers that provide free internet access.
JetBlue's free Wi-Fi system Fly-Fi operates gate-to-gate, unlike Gogo, which doesn't work until you're 10,000 feet above ground. JetBlue also has a partnership with Amazon, which supports video streaming using the Fly-Fi system. JetBlue members can earn 3x points while shopping on Amazon whether they are in the air or on the ground.
Since the electronics ban on US-bound flights went into effect in March 2017, Turkish Airlines has been offering free Wi-Fi on your cell phone en route to the US, provided you turn over your laptops or tablets to authorized Turkish Airlines' staff at the boarding gate. If you surrender your device at check-in for transport in the cargo area, this offer is not applicable.
Emirates has a reputation for being one of the most luxurious airlines with a wide array of on-board amenities, so it comes as no surprise that they have a free Wi-Fi plan available. Enjoy up to 20 MB of free Wi-Fi within the first two hours across all your devices on most Emirates flights. If you need more or want to use it longer than two hours, there are several paid options available. And if you're a member of Emirates' frequent flyer program, you may have additional free options as well.
Non Emirates Skywards Members (All Classes)
- Up to 150MB of data for $9.99 US
- Up to 500MB of data for $15.99 US
Emirates Skywards Members
- First and Business Class (Blue, Silver, Gold, and Platinum): Unlimited free Wi-Fi throughout the flight
- Economy Class (Gold and Platinum: Unlimited free Wi-Fi throughout the flight
- Silver: Up to 150MB of data for $4.99 US, up to 500 MB for $7.99
- Blue: Up to 150MB of data for $6.99 US, up to 500MB for $10.99
In order to take advantage of the membership options for frequent flyers, make sure you log in as a member rather than a guest from the start.
Norwegian Airlines is another carrier that offers a liberal free Wi-Fi policy onboard select flights. As soon as the "fasten your seatbelt" sign is switched off, check for wireless networks on your device. When you're connected to the Norwegian Internet Access, you can also enjoy Video On Demand service on your laptop, tablet, or phone. Wi-Fi enabled flights typically operate between Europe and the U.S. and Caribbean. To verify if your flight has Wi-Fi, check for the Wi-Fi symbol.
Wi-Fi Technology Matters
The most common way in-flight Wi-Fi works is through air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity, which uses towers and satellites-many of the same towers used to deliver data to a smartphone. A newer technology called ATG-4 uses multiple antennas, typically four, arranged along the fuselage of the plane. Speeds can range from 3 Mbps up to 10 Mbps with the ATG-4 coverage.
Ku-Band service is satellite-based and is seen with providers like Panasonic, Row 44, and Gogo. The antenna is housed on top of the plane to keep the connectivity more constant.
According to The Points Guy, satellite-based Ka-Band is said to be the fastest Wi-Fi available, and is seen on carriers like JetBlue, Virgin America, and some United 737s.
Booking Your Flight Based on Wi-Fi
While making a choice on a flight primarily based on the best Wi-Fi might seem like a good idea, always remember that weather and maintenance issues can mean the internet does not work quickly, or at all in some cases. In some cases, last minute plane swaps could mean you end up on a flight with no Wi-Fi service available. As such, it's still best to choose your flight based on more important criteria, like price or more direct routes.