As a business traveler, the single most important benefit when I’m on a flight is reliable, fast Wi-fi. A comfortable seat is nice, especially if there’s room for me to work on my laptop. Food and drink really are immaterial. Movies and TV shows? I’ve got my own in the rare case I actually don’t have enough work to do. It all comes down to Wi-Fi.
I didn’t start out 2019 with this project in mind. Then, United Airlines just completely bombed on working Wi-Fi. So, I started tracking all of my flights and when Wi-Fi worked. Now, we have to have a reasonable definition of “working”. Here’s mine. I need to be able to send and receive e-mails for the lion’s share of a flight. I’ve had a few United Airlines’ flights where I could text periodically though not quickly. That doesn’t come close to meeting the standard of productivity.
United Airlines typically takes a while to for Wi-Fi to get working. Other airlines like Delta that still feature planes with the older Gogo systems typically don’t work under 10,000 feet. I expect that internet will work within 20 minutes of take-off and work until roughly 20 minutes left in the flight. I might be willing to stretch that to a lost hour of connectivity, especially on a longer flight. But, I haven’t been in that position yet.
I had some of these stats wrong when I was tweeting about it, so I thought it best to start recording it on a monthly basis. I’ll go back through my flight history each month and keep going until the numbers aren’t interesting anymore (airlines fix their Wi-Fi).
Here’s my stats for January, 2019:
United Airlines: 2 working flights out of 7 (28.5%)
Southwest Airlines: 1 working flight out of 2 (50%)
Air Canada: 1 working flight out of 1 (100%)
Delta Air Lines: 1 working flight out of 1 (100%)
The Final Two Pennies
The point that the airlines miss (United Airlines, specifically) is that they believe they can refund the money from a failed Wi-Fi session and repair any damage to the relationship with their customer. I currently fly most regularly on United Airlines because they have the most nonstop flights from my home airport of Washington-Dulles. Based on their Wi-Fi performance in January, and a continuation of the same trend on my flights in early February, I’m actively considering booking away from United until this problem gets better. I won’t sacrifice time away from my family, but I will consider taking connecting flights with efficient connecting times on an airline with more reliable Wi-Fi.
Stay tuned for another update in February.
What has your experience been with W-Fi in the air lately?
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