If you’re a road warrior like I am, then you are probably very familiar with the concept of inflight Wi-Fi onboard planes. Whether it’s from GoGo or one of the other service providers, having Internet access while in the air can be an amazing benefit and well worth paying for. I fly practically every week, and frequently to multiple cities in a week, so sometimes the only way to get anything done is to do it while at 30K feet, so I wanted to post some tips and tricks to get the most out of using inflight Wi-Fi. If you are looking to join the Mile High Club (for data! Get your mind out of the gutter!) then this post is for you.
1. Know your airlines
While many airlines offer some form of in-flight Wi-Fi, not all of them do yet, not all planes on any one airline are equipped yet, and not all the airlines offer the same services. Case in Point-I have a monthly subscription to GoGo, so I avoid flying any airline that doesn’t use GoGo. On the other hand, I am starting to consider flying JetBlue more often, as their customer service both on the ground and in the air is outstanding, and basic Wi-Fi is free for all.
2. Check your bookings
Most airline booking systems will let you know if a flight you are considering has in-flight Wi-Fi or not. It’s not a guarantee, as maintenance issues and last minute changes may mean a different plane than the one originally scheduled will be used for your specific flight, but most of the time, checking before you book ensures you get a flight with Internet services.
3. Buy in advance
You know the concept of the captive audience? Once you’re in the air and start jonesing for connectivity, you’re willing to pay whatever the provider wants. $5.00 for 15 minutes? Sure! Erm no… buy your connectivity in advance to save money. Pay special attention to offers like “all day” access, especially if you have a connecting flight, so you are covered all the way from departure to final destination.
4. Consider using your phone
If all you are looking to do is catch up on Reddit or read through your emails, see if there is a less expensive access for your mobile device. You’ll be able to use it longer, and might be able to get a cheaper rate even though your phone is probably a full-featured computing device.
5. Use 5GHz
If your computer has 5GHz capability, try to use that, as you will see the 2.4GHz band is chock full of all the other devices on the plane, including the dozens of people who not only did NOT put their phones into airplane mode…they even left their mobile hotspot capabilities turned on. I usually get a cleaner signal as one of the only devices on the “a” band.
6. Always use a firewall
Airplane hotspots are just like any other open network…you never know who might be lurking on the network just trying to poke into others’ machines. Most GoGo APs enforce isolation, but while your PC is looking to associate, you never know if someone is running a rogue AP to trick you into getting onto their network so they can attack.
7. Use VPN when you can
This is tough, since many airlines’ Wi-Fi Internet access relies on satellite, and the latency will kill most VPN technologies. But if you are on a plane that uses cellular, and/or you can use SSTP or SSL VPN that can tolerate the latency, you will be better protected by forcing all your traffic through the encrypted tunnel so no one can eavesdrop.
8. Consider monthly service plans
Because I fly so much, I subscribe to a GoGo monthly plan. That really works out well for me, and could do the same for you if you travel frequently. Other providers offer similar subscriptions, so if you are a SouthWest type of flyer you might want to consider their offering, but either way, it’s fun to see so many people digging into their wallets for their credit card at 10K feet, while all I have to do is login!
9. Shut down unnecessary services
In air, Internet access is slow, high latency, and many times reminds me of the bad old days of dial-up. One thing I do to help reduce the pain is to shut down all the things I usually have running in the back ground that can use up bandwidth, like my cloud storage sharing clients, and my instant messaging client, and I always make sure I am up to date on all my apps before I head out, because nothing will slow things down like trying to pull a 300MB update down while in the air.
With so many hours sitting there being unproductive, inflight Wi-Fi can make the difference between a wasted day and a quiet time to get caught up. Knowing how to make the most out of your flight, stay safe, and save money, will help you to squeeze everything you can out of that service. Hopefully these tips will help you out the next time you’re at 30K feet. Happy Travels!