Have you ever been sure you have been violated at no fault of your own…only to discover you were not very well covered given the circumstance?

Of course we are talking about what could possibly go wrong using wifi while onboard an airplane. To keep the discussion relevant to the theme of cheap airfares and the ability to leverage your travel budget as you make your future travel plans, probably best to look at how inflight internet access works.  Today most discount airline tickets are no frills, with added options like food, drinks, and now in-flight wifi being offered at a cost. Even full service airlines like United, Etihad, Emirates, Alaska Airlines, and Qantas to name some of the best business class airlines are offering internet connections while flying. There are some free wifi options even when you fly on discounted tickets, however in most cases you will pay for wifi on planes.

The sting is in the tail as the saying goes….onboard connectivity to the internet is not always free. So after paying for the service you would like it to:


a. Work

b. Be cost effective

c. Be accurate for usage calculations in the airline inflight wifi metering system for the session, (a nice way to say… not ripping you off at 30,000 feet) see items a & b!

 

Here are some things to know about in-flight wifi access to the Internet, which has many different variables and names for the service of wifi on planes:

 

  1. Some airlines will not accept Debit Visa or MasterCard’s for inflight purchases…including wifi access while flying. Not unsurprisingly… they also have no way to accept cash for the service. Be prepared to go without wifi on board if you do not have a ‘credit card’ as compared to a debit card.
     
  2. Most in-flight wifi services on airplanes need to be at cruising altitude (>20,000 feet) to have a clear shot to the satellites or ground tracking stations that provide the service or to meet local government regulations.  This can be a pain when you are on a deadline for work.
     
  3. The service may not work…even with the right altitude, ground data transfers, and/or satellite connections. If you are flying over a country/city/state/government that does not allow Internet to be broadcast onboard as the government on the ground cannot control/monitor/control the content being utilised by those onboard.


 


 

        4. You can burn through your 30mb purchased data pack in about 20 minutes. Yes it is possible. The idea was you were going to use it for 4-6 hours to check your mail…but it was gone in the first 30 minutes.

 

Time does not always fly on an airplane but the data usage often does. How can you possibly use up a data allowance so fast? Easy.

On a recent flight I was shocked at two things. The first issue was I had 1.5 hours of not being able to connect as I flew over India… no service. Some warning before I bought an in-flight wifi usage package would have been nice…


  Larger view: http://your.future.travel/public/no_wifi_-_ET_india.jpeg

The second issue was I burned through (‘Consumed’) about 1/3rd of my purchased data in about 15 minutes…. What??? I felt like I was being ripped off…until I looked closer and saw that I was to blame.

Like most users I keep multiple windows open in my browser. Some of those windows are constantly updating or trying to reconnect. In the picture above you cannot see all the tabs, but some: FaceBook, The Rock Trading, LinkedIn, Future.Travel Chat, Xe.Com were all updating live… in the background. This was killing me in usage volume. So while I was getting the latest currency and trade volumes, and being updated on a strangers weird relatives on Facebook, my precious data was flowing away faster the airplane was flying.

So here is a simple rule for your future travel…before you connect your laptop to use wifi while on an airplane or train, or for any paid metered wifi on demand system, close all your browser tabs. Turn off all applications that require an internet access to exist. This turns off the majority of the easy to fix download data eaters. If you are very serious about the data usage while using wifi while flying, then you might also consider turning off your ‘auto update’ of software so you are not ‘background’ updating your favourite application or game.

With your data eating applications turned off or not engaging via your minimised internet browser, your online inflight wifi experience should run smoothly… provided your battery does not go flat!

Wifi on planes. Something for free?

Some airline systems allow for ‘free’ wifi access to their own networks and websites while flying on their airplanes. In a similar and generally under reported vane, there are some applications that you can use to access free wifi on board your flight. As a general rule the Google Gmail ap on your phone is available just by connecting to a flight with wifi onboard network being offered. This seems to hold true for both discount airlines and for full service promotional business class flights. While it may not be ‘surfing the web’ while at a mile high, it does allow you to check and send off the latest news for your fan club. Some onboard / in flight wifi on planes also allow for messages to be sent via the Google Hangout’s chat system to be sent. Most likely Google Analytics are watching each flight to analyse the wifi web traffic onboard a flight so the ‘Google’ family of aps door is wide open for ‘free wifi’ while onboard an airplane. Great option for checking your email while flying or for that text message from a ‘cheap discount seat’ when the use of wifi when flying costs more than the low cost carrier’s ticket!

If you have experiences with wifi onboard airplanes and any hints or tricks for wifi while flying we would love to hear from you.