Staying connected in mid-air is a tricky thing. In-flight online connectivity is still a nascent niche, and no one’s completely nailed it just yet. Oh, but they keep trying.
In one corner, you’ve got JetBlue’s ambitious new initiative to equip airplanes with ViaSat Wi-Fi for free starting in early 2013 (at least for the initial rollout period). In the other stands GoGo, the industry’s leading airline Internet service provider, which is raising fees and ditching á la carte pricing altogether on some flights. Two very different approaches to inflight connectivity — but who’s the winner?
Well, in a hit-or-miss field with limited availability, I’d have to say it’s any passenger who can even find Internet access for any price on any airline. Luckily sites like Hipmunk and Kayak make it easy to scope out trips before booking, since they list in-flight Wi-Fi in search results. Already bought tickets? Then head over to SeatGuru and look up your flight.
SeatGuru is like the secret weapon of frequent travelers — it offers a wealth of info related to the airline experience, such as seatmap graphics, details on seating design (including pitch, recline, legroom, etc), power-port locations, lavatory and exit row locations for every plane in every airline’s fleet. It also details which aircraft are Wi-Fi-equipped.
Of course, none of that guarantees connectivity. There are a variety of factors, including atmospheric conditions and even rank-and-file equipment failures, so you’ll want to do some prep ahead of time, like stashing offline copies of documents, performing a recent email sync and other tasks. And if you’re planning to watch video, you’ll definitely want to download a local copy beforehand. Even if the in-flight Internet connection is just fine, it’s still not going to be like your home broadband… plus, you could hog the pipes for a plane full of irate travelers.