If you’re on the go, there is only one WiFi-wasteland left: air space. Well, ten years ago that may have been the case. Nowadays it is safe to say that WiFi on planes is here: but, since technology hasn’t caught up yet, it can be a rare resource. So rare, in fact, that it leaves people asking: is there WiFi on planes at all?
Once you find out that the answer is yes, there are more questions: are there many European airlines with WiFi? Does in-flight WiFi cost anything, and is it actually usable? And how on earth do planes with WiFi work, anyhow?! Let us answer all of your questions in this frequent flyer’s one-stop guide to WiFi on planes.
So… Do planes have WiFi?
Yes. Some of them, that is. If you are on a long haul flight, then you will probably be given the option of WiFi. But if you’re on a short flight zipping between European cities, it’s much more unlikely – but not impossible! – that you’ll fly on planes with WiFi.
Who exactly will give me my in-flight WiFi?
Long haul and US domestic flights are way ahead of the European game. It may be the 21st century, but there are hardly any inter-European airlines with WiFi.
There are some, however. Monarch was one of the pioneers of “WiFi” on planes several years ago, but what they actually mean by internet services is their so-called “M-Player”: this is a free app where you can buy a TV, film and music package and stream on board, but not surf. Icelandair, which offers both transatlantic and European routes, claims it has WiFi on its entire fleet.
Air Berlin has WiFi, but you need to sell your soul to get it: download the app beforehand, fiddle around once in the air to connect, and then finally buy a package. Only Norwegian Air seems to offer sacrifice-free in-flight WiFi.
OK. How much is it?
As of 2017, we have only found one decent free in-flight WiFi provider for Europe-only flights: Norwegian Air.
Other airlines with WiFi charge you for it. For example, Monarch’s app-based streaming service only costs £3.99/approx. €4.50, and Air Berlin has a variety of packages, from €4.90 for 30 mins. Prices depend on how much internet you want and how long your flight is.
And why do I have to pay?
Of course, trapping customers tens of thousands of miles above the Earth’s crust would be the perfect, evil business ploy. But there are justifiable reasons as to why not all airlines with WiFi allow you free access. This is hi-tech stuff; it’s tricky to engineer, and the antenna actually burdens the plane by increasing drag, meaning the airline has to shell out more for fuel.
Is WiFi on planes actually any good?
Although WiFi on planes is currently cutting-edge technology, it is still miles behind the internet speeds we can expect on the ground. Not only because not all airlines with WiFi offer the fastest speeds: more often than not it’s the fact that every passenger wants to get their smartphone, tablet or laptop online. It’s not surprising that most airlines with WiFi ban streaming or Skype – really though, this should just be courtesy to your fellow flyers.
But in-flight WiFi is useful for solving those simple issues, like when you realise that you have absolutely NO IDEA how to get to where you’re staying. Or maybe you just really can’t wait to send an email – for business, or just because you’d be sending it from a plane which makes you feel business-like. These little pleasures are how WiFi on planes makes you grateful – like an empty stomach for a half-eaten sandwich.
Cool. Well, now I know the important stuff… how does in-flight WiFi work?
The antenna we mentioned earlier is the key: it picks up signals either from the ground or from satellites. There is a router on board which works pretty much like a normal router – distributing WiFi to everyone.
However, it’s a good idea to check your airline’s instructions, even before flying. As we mentioned, some airlines with WiFi require you to download an app to even get online. For other airlines, you might need to fiddle a bit by switching on “flight mode” during take-off and then try to connect to the in-flight WiFi once the seatbelt sign goes off.
Is the future bright for WiFi on planes?
It’s no longer a question of “Is there WiFi on planes?”; the question is, when it is going to be better, faster, cheaper, and most importantly, everywhere?
We’ve already mentioned that intercontinental flights are already pretty established in the in-flight WiFi business, but finally, Europe is also upping its game. Deutsche Telekom and telecommunications company Inmarsat are hatching a plan to guarantee Europe-wide airborne access to WiFi.
There are whispers in the media that this could happen later in 2017 in the form of the European Aviation Network. Just last month in February 2017 Inmarsat completed testing for part of the EAN’s infrastructure – so perhaps quality WiFi on planes in European skies isn’t that far away.
When the EAN does launch, it will be a network, with multiple airlines throughout Europe already looking to sign up. Keep an eye out: even short distance ringleaders easyJet and Ryanair are looking into getting in-flight WiFi.
Got any more tips for flights?
Now you know the deal with WiFi on planes, how about packing? Hand luggage requirements are also tricky to remember, so make sure you don’t get caught out – especially when the security officers are having a bad day. You should also get clued up before you fly on worst-case scenarios, such as flight cancellations and what you can do about them.
Oh, and one more thing – bring sweets (or something else to suck on) so that your ears don’t pop. I always forget. Every. Single. Time.