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Where to Find In-Flight Internet

In-flight Internet service is gradually becoming a regular option when you’re flying. The current industry leader, Aircell, just announced the 1,000th installation of its Gogo system, with more coming along all the time. If your laptop or smartphone is equipped with a, b, g, or n WiFi connection, you can log on.
Currently, eight North American lines offer Gogo on at least some planes:

  • Air Canada: installed on some A319s.
  • AirTran: installed on all 717s and 737s.
  • Alaska: installed on all 737-800s and 737-900s, other models by the end of the year.
  • American: installed on all 767-200s and some 737s and MD80s.
  • Delta: installed on all A319s, A320s, 737-700s, 737-800s, 757-300s, 767-300s, MD80s, and MD90s, plus some 757-200s and DC9-50s; Delta claims it has “WiFi on more aircraft than any other airline.”
  • Frontier: to be installed on all E170s and E190s “by the end of the year.”
  • United: installed on all 757-200s used on its premium “PS” transcontinental flights; no indications on further installations.
  • US Airways: installed on all A321s.
  • Virgin America: installed on all planes.

Gogo connects to the Internet through ground stations similar to those used for cell phone service. That means coverage is limited to the entire 48-state region of the United States, plus parts of Alaska, Canadian areas adjacent to the U.S. border, and some island areas near the mainland. Because it’s based on ground stations, it is not available for overseas flights and is not in use anywhere else in the world. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}Gogo says speeds are comparable to other mobile devices, and—probably—vary depending on the number of travelers on each flight that use it at any particular time. Airlines are able to block some content and use of the Internet for voice VOIP calls (such as through Skype or MagicJack) is not allowed. Texting, however, is OK. And the ban on phoning may not last much longer.

You can buy Gogo access through a variety of “passes,” either for one-day, one-flight use on one airline, or on daily or monthly passes valid 24/7:

  • One-flight pass for computer use, $4.95 to $12.95 per flight, depending on length of flight.
  • One-flight pass for handheld device use, $4.95 to $7.95 per flight, depending on length of flight.
  • One-day (24-hour) pass for a single airline, $12.95 ($11 promotional rate currently available).
  • Monthly 30-day pass for unlimited use, $34.95 per month ($19.95 promotional rate currently available for first month) valid for all participating airlines, $29.95 for one airline, and $14.95 for mobile-device use on one airline.

Buy through your airline or online from Gogo.

Internet access on flights outside the United States is also on the horizon. Several major foreign-based airlines have signed up with either the AeroMobile or OnAir satellite-based system that can provide Internet and voice access on intercontinental flights and on overland flights outside the U.S. As I understand the technology, AeroMobile provides WiFi broadband connections, while OnAir works only if you can link through a phone network. I don’t know yet what charges will be, but I suspect they’ll be quite a bit higher than for Gogo. On the other hand, some lines may offer service “free” to travelers on very expensive business-class tickets.

Meanwhile, if you’re satisfied with lower-tech phone-based service in-flight, AeroMobile and OnAir have already installed phone and phone-plus-movie systems on a handful of airlines based outside North America.

My initial reaction to Boeing’s earlier abortive attempt at satellite-based in-flight Internet was extremely positive. Many travelers exhibit withdrawal symptoms whenever they lose a broadband signal, so I figured Boeing’s “Connexion” system would be a winner. I’m still not quite sure whether it failed because of technical or marketing problems. In any event, however, Boeing’s earlier tribulations don’t seem to be deterring current wannabe suppliers. I fully expect in-flight broadband Internet access to be widely available over the next few years.

Your Turn

Have you ever logged on to the Internet while in flight? Do you think the service is worth the cost? Share your thoughts by adding a comment below!

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