Monthly Airplane Wi-Fi Report Card: February 2019

Wi-Fi is the most important resource on an airplane for me.  Meals don’t matter, movies don’t matter.  I don’t drink on planes when I’m working, nor very much when I’m on vacation.  Staying connected is what makes me productive.  2018 was a pretty poor year for that, supported mostly by United Airlines’ continued connectivity issues.  When I had a disastrous start to 2019, I decided it was time to start recording my progress.  January saw a decent variety of carriers with flights on Southwest, Air Canada and Delta along with United.  February, on the other hand, was all United.

What defines working Wi-Fi for me? 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, and still count that flight as “good”.  But, I haven’t been in that position yet.

February 2019 Scorecard:

United Airlines: 2 working flights out of 5 (40%)

*I had one flight from LAS to ORD that I thought about counting as “working”.  There were multiple outages of 15 minutes or more once the Wi-Fi started working.  That doesn’t cut the mustard.  But, you could score that as a win if you’re trying to look at the glass as half full.

YTD Stats:

United Airlines: 4 working flights out of 12 (33%)

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%)

Total: 7 working flights out of 16 (44%)

The Final Two Pennies

February was another bad month for me when it came to relying on United Airlines for Wi-Fi.  Even if I count the one flight that was spotty as a good flight, that only boosts my success rate to 60% for the month, and still below 50/50 for the year.

I’ve started looking for itineraries on United that don’t include Boeing 737 aircraft.  Those seem to present the biggest challenge right now.  We’ll see what March brings.  I’m writing this from my first United flight of the month.  While I’ve had a few frustrating 10-15 minute outages, it’s a long enough flight that I’d score this one as a win for productivity.  I’m hoping that’s a sign of improvement to come.  If not, I may have to consider moving some of my flights from United to another carrier.

It’s a measure of insanity that I’m tracking this information.  Maybe some folks think I’m nuts for reporting on these nuances of travel.  It just really boggles my mind that after a decade of widespread in-flight connectivity growth we can still have these sorts of growing pains.

What has your experience been with W-Fi in the air lately?

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8 Comments

  1. Good topic. I’m generally a big fan of Southwest, but I’ve noticed at least 2 or 3 of the last 4 or 5 flights did not have operable WiFi / TV. Southwest advertises their free TV (and availability of wifi), and I’d often rather watch TV or get work done via internet rather than download netflix shows. It’s very frustrating and disappointing to hear that your flight doesn’t have operable internet (tv); and it’s becoming more and more common. Hopefully, your article will keep pressure on the carriers to provide up to their abilities, including wifi and tv.

    1. Larry, Southwest had some issues during a transition recently system wide for wifi. I’ve heard things are back to normal now but don’t have a flight to test it on for a month or so.

  2. Do you ever test WiFi latency? I have to remote into my work computers via the Citrix app and I haven’t found an airline whose WiFi latency is under 100ms. Texting and facebooking is fine, but for some of us living in a virtual desktop work, airplane WiFi still sucks… 🙁

    1. Latency isn’t going to improve. Most airlines seem to be going to satellite based internet which has a fairly high latency. For example, most of the speed tests I’ve see for Gogo’s 2ku are in the 600ms range.

  3. It’s inexcusable to advertise ubiquitous WiFi and then have it fail on more than 5-10% of flights, let alone more than 50% of them.

  4. Using Wifi now on a cathay flight from EWR to HKG. The overview says the charge per MB, instead, it is unlimited for this 15+ hour flight fo 19.95. It has its outages here and there but so far all good. I was recently on a Lufthansa flight from Munich and the charged by the MB, don’t know when that changed, previous flights were unlimited. This for international is just as important as reliability, if a soon as you sync your email you have to pay again, not worth using.

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