Wi-Fi in the Sky: Connectivity on the World's Most Popular Airline Routes

A man sits on the floor of an airport, using his laptop. @Saigon/Flickr
Yes, it's a "First World problem." But for busy travelers, boarding a plane and finding out that you can't use the Wi-Fi can be seriously frustrating. We're here to help. We've talked with aviation experts about the most popular routes in the U.S., plus a few itineraries from the U.S. to other parts of the globe, for the lowdown on whether you can count on connectivity—or whether you should bring that novel you've been thinking about reading.

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An aerial view of Manhattan, with the Empire State Building in the background. Bryan Ledgard/Flickr.jpg
Carriers: Non-stop flights offered by Delta, U.S. Airways, United, American, Virgin America, JetBlue, and Air Alaska.

Wi-Fi lowdown: Gogo is the service of choice for all of these airlines except JetBlue, which offers its own service, Fly-Fi. Gogo is not universally loved, but it's rolling out 2ku, a Wi-Fi service that provides a faster conection by using satellites instead of terrestrial sources. 

Tips: Gogo's one-hour pass for $5 the standard, and it can be paused if connectivity isn't good. Until airlines can provide consistent Wi-Fi, use the one-hour pass.

Flyer Thoughts: "From a technology standpoint, we're still in the early stages of airline Wi-Fi," says Tim Winship, publisher of Frequent Flier.
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A view of the Chicago skyline Heath Alseike/Flickr
Carriers: United, Delta, American, JetBlue, and Southwest

Wi-Fi Lowdown: Wi-Fi is available on most daily non-stop flights on this route. Despite this being a popular, route and Chicago being home of United Airlines, not all United flights to New York offer Wi-Fi.

Tips: Southwest offers its own Wi-Fi through Golden Eagle Entertainment Inc. on all its flights from Midway, but it is priced at $8/day and receives consistent poor reviews from experts, so we suggest avoiding it on this short flight. JetBlue offers free service and it gets positive reviews from travel experts. Delta and America offer Gogo Wi-Fi service.

Flyer Thoughts: According to frequent flyer Andy Abramson, chief executive officer of Comunicano Inc., "The connection speeds and constant dropouts on Southwest indicate a lack of full nationwide coverage and begins to allude to capacity issues. That, and the fact that Southwest is still building out their fleet, make the offering the weakest in the U.S."
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View of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge from about 5,000 ft. above. Carol Schaffer/Flickr
Carriers: Delta, United, American, Virgin America, Southwest

Wi-Fi lowdown: For a flight this short, do you really need Wi-Fi? If you must connect, we think it's foolish to buy more than one-hour pass (for $5). Remember, the crew will ask you to put away your devices well before you land.

Tips: Buy a magazine!

Flyer Thoughts: "On a short hop between L.A. and San Francisco, a big advantage to being connected while flying is I can look at highway traffic sites to determine how long a drive may take so I can better plan on my arrival," Abramson says.

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A view of people lying on Miami's South Beach with downtown Miami in the background Phillip Pessar/Flickr
Carriers: U.S. Airways, Delta, American, United, Frontier

Wi-Fi Lowdown: Frontier does not offer Wi-Fi on its planes.

Tips: Gogo is the only service on the other airlines flying this route, and not all United flights have Wi-Fi.

Flyer Thoughts: According to frequent flyer and travel entrepreneur Lee Abbamonte, "I fly United and I've never had a major problem with the Wi-Fi."

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Aerial view of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center Greg Goebel/Flickr
Carriers: Frontier, Delta, Southwest

Wi-Fi Lowdown: This flight takes only 1 1/2 hours. With such a short flight, Wi-Fi use should be only for last minute change of plans. Gogo is offered on Delta, which has a one-hour plan; but Southwest charges by the day, so if you use its Wi-Fi, you wind up paying $8 for about an hour of service (taking into account the time for ascent and descent, when Wi-Fi isn't available.)

Flyer Thoughts: "If I were flying on a 1-2 hour flight, I would think twice about paying for it. Ask yourself, 'How long can I endure without being connected?'" notes Winship. 

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View of London's Thames River from about 5,000 ft. above. Jan Smith/Flickr
Carriers: American, United, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, U.S. Airways, Norwegian, KLM, Iberia, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa

Wi-Fi Lowdown: No Wi-Fi service is available on flights between New York and London on KLM, Norwegian, Air France, British Airways, or Iberia Airlines. Lufthansa, partnered with Panasonic, offers Flynet.

Tips: Lufthansa's Flynet is free for news, weather, and connecting flights, and its Wi-Fi gets good reviews from frequent flyers and travel experts. Pricing options vary from €9 for one hour to €17 for 24-hour use. 

Flyer Thoughts: The website Rotten Wi-Fi gives the lead to Lufthansa for speed.
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View of Mount Fuji's white capped peak with surrounding clouds. Karl Baron/Flickr
Carriers: United, Delta, American, U.S. Airways, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines

Wi-Fi Lowdown: American Airlines flights on this route do not offer Wi-Fi. Singapore and Airlines and All Nippon Airlines use OnAir by Panasonic. Japan Air uses T-Mobile.

Flyer Thoughts: According to Brian Kelly, founder and editor-in-chief of The Points Guy, "When I was awake, I thought the inflight Wi-Fi (Japan Airlines) was decent—not as fast as Wi-Fi in the U.S. and certainly spotty in some areas, but strong enough to send emails and browse the Web. I also thought the price—$18.80 for the whole flight—was reasonable."
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Rooftop view of the Summer Palace in Beijing Alexis R/Flickr
Carriers: United, American, U.S. Airways, Hainan

Wi-Fi Lowdown: Gogo is not available over the North Pole or in Chinese airspace (the government of China restricts Internet use). This means flyers will be without Wi-Fi for about a quarter of the flight.

Traveler Thoughts: According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "In May 2010, the government isssued its first white paper on the Internet that emphasized the concept of 'Internet sovereignty', requiring all Internet users in China, including foreign organizations and and individuals, to abide by Chinese laws and regulations." That means you have to unplug when you're over China.
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Aerial view of Dubai Fabio Achilli/Flickr
Carriers: Emirates

Wi-Fi Lowdown: Emirates offers free Wi-Fi up to 10MB, which should allow users to check email and text. If you wish to do more on the 13-hour flight, you can pay $1 for higher speed, but this service is notoriously unreliable over the ocean since Emirates uses ground-air sources for Wi-Fi transmission.

Flyer Thoughts: "I like the fact that Emirates offers power outlets at every seat. I was also pleased to see the sign above the seats and next to the seat belt sign, which let the passeners know when the Wi-Fi was working," says Pauline Frommer, radio talk show host and editorial director for Frommer's. "Problem was, on my recent flights between New York City and Dubai, the Wi-Fi was only working 10 percent of the time—if that!"
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Aerial view of the city of Melbourne Tim J. Keegan/Flickr
Carriers: Delta, United, American, Qantas, Virgin Australia

Wi-Fi Lowdown: United is the only airline that will carry Wi-Fi on this trans-Pacific route in the near future. The airline is scheduled to implement Wi-Fi on its Los Angeles—Sydney flight in 2015. United uses the Boeing 787 for this itinerary, which comes equipped with Panasonic Avionics' eXConnect service.

Flyer Thoughts:"In my view, Panasonic is offering the fastest Wi-Fi experience, deploying the faster and more robust experience that works over oceans," Abramson says.
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Rooftop view of Mosteiro de Sao Paulo Eduardo Zarate/Flickr
Carriers: American, Delta, United, TAM

Wi-Fi Lowdown: American is the only airline that offers Wi-Fi for this route via its Boeing 777-300ER. A Gogo pass for the entire flight is $19.

Flyer Thoughts: According to Zach Honig, formerly of Engaget.com, "If you're traveling overseas, you'll need to fly American's new 777-300ER, which can get you online via satellite throughout many international flights."
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