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Close up of person working on a laptop on an airplane
Viacheslav Yakobchuk | Adobe Stock

Is In-Flight WiFi Fast Enough to Work Remotely?

SmarterTravel

I’m writing this story from 31,000 feet in the sky. As someone who hordes her vacation days for travel, I wanted to know if I could avoid using a precious PTO day and instead work remotely from a plane. If you’re stuck sitting on a long flight, could you work instead of nap or watch videos? The question comes down to the in-flight WiFi—is it fast enough to work remotely? I tried remotely working for a full day from a plane—here’s what you need to know.

Person holding up smartphone displaying the WiFi symbol in an empty plane cabin
tonjung | Adobe Stock

How Much Does In-Flight WiFi Cost?

The cost of in-flight WiFi varies by airline. For this story, I tested out the in-flight WiFi on a domestic Delta flight. Delta offers in-flight WiFi for a flat rate of $5 per flight. 

How Fast is In-Flight WiFi?

Delta recently equipped a large portion of their fleet with high-speed Viasat satellite internet, which is faster than older in-flight WiFi technology. This new WiFi was available on my flight.

During my trip, the in-flight WiFi speed varied. I used Google’s internet speed test to check the connection at various points of the journey. When I first connected after takeoff, the internet speed was slow, with a 0.25 Mbps download speed and 0.16 Mbps upload speed. 

However, about an hour into the flight, my internet connection improved and became fast, with a 44.7 Mbps download speed and 0.09 upload speed. 

At all points in the flight, the WiFi was good enough for me to use Slack instant messaging, check emails, and browse the internet (although there was a bit of lag time when loading new pages when I had slow internet speed). 

Once the connection became fast, I was even able to stream a 45-minute online training video without any issues or buffering. 

Important Considerations for Working Remotely From a Flight

Working remotely from a flight can be a great way to maximize your vacation time. However, there are a few important considerations you should think about before deciding to give it a try.

  • In-flight WiFi isn’t guaranteed, and might only be available on certain planes. Weather, equipment issues, and other factors could cause the internet not to work, so always have a backup plan (and communicate to your employer that you may end up unexpectedly not working that day)
  • If you use software that requires dual authentication, to log-in, keep in mind that you may not be able to get texts/phone calls to verify and log-in.
  • Airlines do not allow in-flight WiFi to be allowed for phone calls or video meetings, so schedule your day accordingly.
  • Be careful with your laptop—unless you’re in first or buisness class, you’ll have a very small working area (your tray table). If your laptop is open and near the seatback in front of you when the person in front of you reclines, your screen could get smashed. You’ll also need to be cautious with beverages, as there will be limited room on your tray table for a drink and computer, and turbulence could cause some laptop-destroying spills. 
  • Laptop use is not permitted during takeoff and landings, so factor that into your workday availability. 
  • If you work with confidential or sensitive information, keep in mind that people sitting near you will easily be able to see your laptop screen. A privacy screen filter could be an easy fix. 

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