How do the major U.S. airlines compare in their in-flight Internet service? That’s what the folks at HighSpeedInternet.com were wondering, so they studied Wi-Fi availability, speed and cost for the seven largest carriers to find out.
Capturing first place in their overall rankings was JetBlue, partly for its speed, but mainly for its cost: There is none.
“JetBlue is the only airline in America that offers free in-flight Wi-Fi,” HighSpeedInternet.com said. “Along with being the most affordable, JetBlue’s in-flight Wi-Fi is also among the fastest; it’s tied with Delta and Virgin America at 15 Mbps.”
Ranking second overall was Southwest, with a cost of just $8 a day for in-flight Internet and a speed of 10 Mbps. (Cheap, yes, but I hear that you get what you pay for with Southwest inflight wi-fi. I don’t fly SWA enough to know…do you? Comment below, please.)
As for availability, Virgin America was tops, with Wi-Fi offered on 100 percent of its available seat-miles. Delta was second at 98 percent availability, followed by Southwest at 90 percent. Virgin America also had a speed of 15 Mbps, but its superior Wi-Fi comes at a high price — $25 a day, the most expensive in the industry, the study noted.
Keep in mind that the cheapest way to buy Gogo is to purchase hourly ($7) or day ($19) passes ahead of time. When you purchase on the plane, the cost can soar to as high as $50.
Virgin’s owner, Alaska Airlines, didn’t fare as well, with Wi-Fi available on just 75 percent of its capacity – the lowest of the seven airlines – and speed well behind Virgin America at 9.8 Mbps.
(We should note that as Alaska continues to integrate its operations with Virgin’s, it recently decided to overhaul their Wi-Fi products. Alaska said a few months ago that it plans to install Gogo’s 2Ku satellite-based broadband Wi-Fi in both its Boeing aircraft and its Airbus fleet — i.e., Virgin’s planes. Installations will start next year on Alaska 737s, and the whole job should be finished by 2020. Alaska also recently extended its free in-flight texting to Virgin’s aircraft as well.)
At the bottom of the company’s overall rankings was United, with availability of 85 percent, speed of 9.8 Mbps, and a cost of $20. United was just below American, which had similar numbers. HighSpeedInternet.com noted that Hawaiian, Spirit and Frontier Airlines don’t have in-flight Wi-Fi. As a frequent United flier, this finding surprised me— When the system is actually working, United’s inflight wi-fi is relatively fast and stable. But the problem is reliability– over the last year, I would estimate that United’s inflight wi-fi system was down on about 40% of my flights.
Also, with Gogo-equipped planes, speed varies based on the type of system installed on the plane. For example, 3,000 planes now have Gogo wi-fi, but only 500 of them have the speediest satellite-based product. (More on that here.)
The rankings changed significantly in looking at the best Wi-Fi service for business travelers, with the assumption that the cost is irrelevant because the traveler’s employer will cover it. If that’s the case, HighSpeedInternet.com gives top honors to Virgin America for its top speed and 100 percent availability, followed by Delta and JetBlue.
In conducting their research, HighSpeedInternet.com staffers discovered that some of this information wasn’t as easy to find as they had thought.
“Some airlines don’t publish their in-flight Wi-Fi information. So, to get it, our team spent days contacting various departments at some of these airlines—hounding them via email, phone, and social media,” the company said. “We think airlines could go a long way to reduce consumer frustration by making this information more readily available.”
Any report on airline Wi-Fi quality and cost should also note that this is all subject to change in the months and years ahead as carriers continue to upgrade their products due to consumer demand. For instance, we just reported on how Gogo is shifting much of its in-flight Wi-Fi service from ground-based to satellite-based links, which will greatly increase speed and data capacity. And we also reported that Air Canada will soon make inflight wi-fi free for its elite level members.
Do you use inflight wi-fi much? How is the service on the airline you fly most? Does it align with these findings?