Although JetBlue put its free Wi-Fi in place a few weeks ago, giving it time to work out the kinks, today it launched it officially in a big way by loading a group of persnickety tech and travel reporters onto one of its planes for a round-trip flight to nowhere. Once altitude was reached, the Wi-Fi service was switched on, and JetBlue let the critics have at it.
The verdict: It works. JetBlue's free version is available to any passenger to use—unlike the legacy carriers, it doesn't charge you to check your email. Like at some hotels, the free version is throttled somewhat, so although it's ample for simple Web surfing, you won't be able to stream video effectively.
For watching Netflix, YouTube HD video, and the like, JetBlue sells a $9-an-hour premium version that takes the fetters off the bandwidth, allowing speeds to soar, the airline claims, as fast as 12 megabytes per second. That's with a planeload of people working at once—the journalists, who didn't fill the plane, clocked speeds as high as 20 mps because they had the signal to themselves. (That's fast enough to have a voice conversation on Skype—although given a public climate hostile to overhearing phone conversations on airplanes, I wouldn't attempt it.)
Engadget's reporter, Zach Honig, wrote, "Generally, the connection on the plane was much faster than in the JFK terminal." Although the critics mostly agreed that it's far and away the fastest Web access in a commercial jet, it's still not as fast as the blazing speeds we enjoy at home.
Right now, it kicks in when the plane reaches 10,000 feet, but the service will reportedly be available from gate to gate within a matter of weeks.
Only five aircraft will be wired up by the end of this year, but the airline says some 140 aircraft will be on line by the end of 2014.
Since the FAA has said it has no problem with passengers using their devices for Wi-Fi during flights, the advance pretty much means that free Web surfing on a JetBlue plane is here.
JetBlue can't resist giving things cutesy names, so it dubs the service Fly-Fi. Whatever. We'll indulge the silly monikers because we're so grateful the airline is indulging the appetites of the modern traveler without bleeding them for it.