How Many More Folks Are Using Electronic Devices On Planes Now That You Can Use Them From Gate to Gate?

According to this article, virtually none.

The study, by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, found 35.9% of airline passengers were using mobile technology at a given point during the four-month study.

That was only slightly more than the 35.3% of fliers who were tapping into their mobile devices at observed points in 2013, during a period before the Federal Aviation Administration began allowing passengers to use electronic devices to play games, listen to music or read from takeoff to landing. That new rule went into effect on Oct. 31, 2013.

With the announcement that folks could use their devices from gate to gate, business travelers were certainly happier.  But, according to this survey referenced by USA Today, it didn’t seem to increase the likelihood that non-users were jumping on.

Buses, on the other hand, seem to be getting more people using their devices:

The use of mobile technology showed its biggest leap on discount buses that ferry passengers from city to city, rising from 46.4% of riders who tapped into their devices at a given time last year, to 59.4% in 2014. Those coaches, like, have made power outlets at every seat and free WiFi ubiquitous perks that they use, along with low fares, to entice travelers.

Discount buses surely aren’t getting the number of business and affluent travelers that planes do, and yet roughly 25% more folks are using their smartphone or other device.  That probably speaks more to the ubiquity of the smartphone as an integral part of our lives more than the comfort of a Megabus and the speed of their wifi.

Trains do pretty well for percentage of connected passengers as well:

Amtrak, where 52.2% of passengers were using mobile technology at a given point according to the study, offers similar advantages to inter-city buses. Amtrak officials say that roughly 85% of their passengers have access to free WiFi. Every seat in the busy Northeast corridor has power outlets, as do most of the first and business class seats and sleepers operating throughout the rest of the train network.

I’d guess that if you just looked at the Acela trains between Boston, New York and DC the numbers are much higher.

As a family traveler, our kids frequently use their iPads during the course of a flight, along with coloring and other non-iPad activities.  But, I’d say that I don’t see a majority of folks in coach using devices in-flight.  First class is a different story, where I would say 80% or better are using an iPad or laptop when I travel.

I’m fairly certain that reducing the price of Wifi to “free” would increase usage.  The only way to reliably not get charged for Wifi on a plane in the US right now is to fly United, since they’re percentage of planes with installed (and working) Wifi is so abysmal!

But the airlines have spent the last few years unbundling everything they can find.  So, I don’t see them increasing ticket prices anytime soon to include “free Wifi”.  Installations to each plane are pretty pricey.

The question now is who gives in first?

Do you think airlines will make wifi free first, or passengers will start paying for the service?


  1. I think you also need to look at the demographics of the riders in each of these modes of transport. You note that buses don’t get the affluent riders as planes do, but as a general rule the riders on the bus routes (e.g. megabus) will trend to a lower average age and therefore the standard usage behaviors of their smartphone/device use would be higher. I’d find it hard to rationalize this many variables in a study across multiple modes of transport.

    1. Matt, it’s a good point about a younger demo on buses. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a plane, train or bus. My 70-year old dad’s flip phone won’t be logging on to anything. 🙂

  2. Gate-to-gate noise canceling headphones have been the only improvement that I’ve observed in US flying in a year or two. Everything else has stayed the same or gotten worse, but now I can sit down, pop on the headphones, wake up for takeoff (because why would anyone miss takeoff?), and get back to sleep before 10,000 feet!

    1. Chris, I love my Bose noise canceling earbuds. I can’t fall asleep twice on the same flight like I used to, but with headphones I can konk out after takeoff and wake up quite a while later.

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