The Low Down on In-Flight WiFi for Business Travelers

 In Chicago, News, Travel

inflight-wifiFrequent business travelers are always looking for WiFi to check emails, submit reports and get work done on the road. After all, just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean your work load stops floating in. But it can get very expensive to get online in-flight and there are some interesting reasons why. Gogo, the company that provides Wi-Fi for many U.S. airlines, can justify charging $50 for one day of access because their domestic network, built on technology that’s nearly a decade old, simply can’t keep up with all the people who want to get online. Surprising in this day and age right!? If half the passengers on a given Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 buy internet, the whole system can lag. Gogo says the problem is particularly acute on Monday mornings and Thursday evenings, when business travel peaks. Far fewer passengers use Wi-Fi on weekends and holidays, Gogo says, and the price to connect is often lower on those flights.

But wait… there’s good news coming for busy business travelers! Since 2008, when American Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to add internet, Gogo has relied on ground-based cell towers to feed most domestic flights. Recently though Gogo has developed a new service called 2Ku that uses two low-profile satellite antennas, a solution the company says will make domestic connections faster and more reliable. Initial peak speeds should reach 70 megabits per second, more than 20 times faster than Gogo’s original system and roughly seven times speedier than on most of today’s domestic flights.

Now the trick is that travelers need airlines to get on board. Most major carriers use Gogo but, so far, only Delta Air Lines has seriously committed to adding the faster connection. Delta will retrofit more than 250 of its planes, including Boeing 757s, Boeing 737s, and Airbus A319s beginning next year. United has also agreed to do a trial with the system on five planes later this year- a fraction of their in-force airline fleet.

The tough part is that even with the added bandwidth there’s no guarantee that costs will fall, industry analysts say. Gogo—not the airlines—have control over prices, and consumers are already accustomed to paying high rates. So even though rates should drop, don’t hold your breath hoping that they will.

Now if you’re a budget-friendly executive on-the-go there are cheaper alternatives to Gogo on some airlines. JetBlue offers its speedy Fly-Fi product for free, funded by advertisers who pay to reach the airline’s passengers. And JetBlue just announced that Amazon Prime customers will be able to stream movies and TV shows for free aboard its flights- win! Southwest also offers connections through a Gogo competitor called Row44 for a flat fee of $8 per day. United uses several different internet providers, and rates for a connection can often be lower than what travelers would pay on a similar Gogo-served flight.

So when you get ready to Go-Go again, be ready to shell out for top-speed internet, or maybe even for slow internet if you really need to get online to get work done in the air.

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