Change Your Altitude

Who’s the Most Fly With Their Inflight WiFi? What Are the Chances of Internet on YOUR Flight?

We value the internet. And if you’re reading this, via the – yes – internet, we imagine that you do too as well. So let’s just all agree that the internet is good. Yes? Okay.

But you want to know what’s better? Internet at 34,000 feet when you don’t have much else to do or have some very unpalatable inflight entertainment choices to toil with.

So when we came across a study that RouteHappy did regarding the availability of inflight WiFi, both domestically and internationally and what your chances of actually getting it were on said airline, we thought it’d be nice to share. Despite it leading to further clogging inflight bandwidth. But never mind, you’d do the same with us, wouldn’t you?

Yep, we thought so.


The Scoop:

So here’s the lowdown: internationally speaking, you have a grand total of 39% of ending up on an aircraft equipped to offer you continuous WiFi (except for flights over China and sometimes India) – doesn’t seem that great, but when you think about what surrounds inter-continental flying and the logistics behind offering reasonable WiFi coverage, you warm to the idea.

In the United Sates, especially within the 48 contiguous states, your chances are much higher. And we’ll dish out which airlines are best for chances of offering WiFi on any given flight. Outside of that, you chances dramatically decrease.

But first, let’s see what the rubric was into this study to gauge not only the availability but the reliability and quality of any internet service provided on board – the following results are based on this system and are adjusted accordingly as per RouteHappy’s rubric:

Here’s the rubric upon which this comprehensive study is based on. Credit: RouteHappy

Now let’s see who fared well in terms of international flight availability:

Surprisingly (or perhaps not?), 4 out of the top 5 airlines per available seat kilometer (ASM) are represented by US based carriers, with Emirates being the lone foreign carrier. Credit: RouteHappy

Finally, let’s segment out the ‘international’ part and just look at ‘long haul’ flights, theoretically flights where WiFi service will count the most. It’s important to note that there are black out zones that some airlines impose in their onboard internet services, and this survey does take that into account.

Per seat kilometer offered, here’s your ratio and chances of getting WiFi on your next long haul airline segmented by airline:

No surprise that Emirates wins out on long haul routes given the nature of their operations, but still the US carriers make a good showing with United at second, with Delta at 4th and American Airlines at 6th. Credit: RouteHappy

So from what we can glean from the study, Emirates comes out on top in terms of pure miles WiFi is offered on, but percentage wise the airline loses out due to a good portion of their 777 fleet not being equipped with WiFi.


The Takeaway:

Please, please, keep in mind that while this study is a very effective and great look into the situation re: WiFi on aircraft, it does not take into account the logistics and prices behind actually getting access to it.

But it’s a fantastic place to start.

And with that in mind, in short, we’ve still got a long way to go. At least for some consistent and reliable WiFi service on an international or long haul flight.

The United States leads the way, with more than half of the flights on ‘major’ airline offering WiFi on some level – vastly outranking any of the other markets around the world. From what we can see from this study, it’s a steep drop off indeed.

Then there’s the nuances. Do we look at accessibility or efficient usability? They are price exclusive so, there’s that.

On the one hand, you have someone like Emirates. They offer a very enticing offer: $1 for unlimited WiFi service on their Airbus A380 aircraft, regardless of route. Sounds good, right? Well just think for a sec – it’s a good deal, most people will take EK up on it. Then think there’s up to 515 other people thinking the same. Result: unusably slow internet for the flight. It’s offered, and offered often, and offered on the cheap – it’s just not that usable for the likes you or me. So, it’s rather useless.

Then you have the other end of the spectrum. Folks like Japan Airlines or Singapore Airlines. They both offer WiFi on select long haul aircraft, mostly on the 777 for JAL and exclusively on the A380 for SQ – but it’s certainly price prohibitive and as such quite fast due to the lack of takers. Singapore Airlines’ WiFi network for instance goes by a data usage basis – which is dangerous to say the least – it could end up with you spending more than a pretty penny on your internet activities. Just think – the way SIA currently structures their WiFi deals, $20 for 100MB won’t get you far but will set you back extensively without you perhaps not knowing it at the time. Better to pass on that, wouldn’t you say?

Then there’s a quasi happy medium – the options airlines such as United and Etihad offer. A full flight pass for a lump some price – often around the price range of $25-$35 per trip (not flight) – which means it’s usable on your potential connecting journey if it falls within the 24 hour period since you bought your first pass – very likely if you have a reasonable transit in-between. From what we’ve heard and seen, access and speed is very reasonable on both airlines and as you can see from the aforementioned graphics, United does a good job, even on international long haul, to offer WiFi to all passengers at the same price. Take for instance their flagship UA 1/2 service to and from San Francisco – 17.5 hours going out, 14.5 hours coming back. The airline offers WiFi at a flat fee of about $20 and will consistently offer it throughout the Ultra-Long Haul flight, especially because the flight route doesn’t go over China, where WiFi blackouts do apply.

Then there’s the ideal – what JetBlue has done with their WiFi service, that they are expanding progressively through their network, hence their rather modest showing on this study (international flights are a struggle for the airline). Given the fact that JetBlue is mostly a domestic airline with limited international coverage through Latin and South America, they do offer a very reliable service on their North America flights. They offer a free version of their WiFi service, dubbing it FlyFi, that is good enough to surf on mobile browsers and other mobile oriented apps without worry. Then there’s the premium service – very affordably priced at about $17 it will enable you to stream quality content at HD levels from their partners Amazon and Netflix amongst streaming similarly HD videos from YouTube and the like.

And not to grab some dust off their shoulders, but JetBlue’s installment regime, as of January 2017, looks something like this:

100%: JetBlue does well when it comes to inflight WiFi – not only on a coverage basis, but on speed and affordability as well. Credit: jetBlue 

Impressive, to say the least. But now for accessibility (especially as the airline expands beyond the continental United States) remains the problem. Anything beyond 100 miles from the American coast and your toast re: WiFi.

So what does this study tell us? Well basically it tells us if we even have the option of WiFi and what airlines we’re most likely to find it on. That’s a very important first step. Next, as we move on from the infancy stage of this technology, we need to figure out what frame work comes out best for us consumers, especially us frequent fliers. Do we get a code that gets us a discount or compensated completely? If that’s the case, do we suffer the Emirates route where the airline makes it very accessible but at the cost of convenience and speed? I’m pretty sure we won’t go down the Singapore Airlines route or ridiculous rates based on data usage despite good speeds. I feel as though the JetBlue approach is the best way to go – offer  a solid product for almost free (Emirates with 500+ passengers/flight will find this hard) then offer the choice of a tried and tested amazing premium product for an nominal additional fee – now add that with the accessibility of United’s international WiFi network, one that far surpasses JetBlue’s current network, and now we’re really talking.

Bottom line: we’re getting there but we are still learning as well. As I said earlier on, especially on the international/long haul stage, we have much to learn from the US model. Yes, there are logistical hurdles to overcome but also there are mental barriers to pass as well – the basic fact is is that inflight WiFi will be assumed as a basic necessity for most premium airline flights in the near future – and many of the elite operators, such as SQ, EK and the like would be best served to realize as much and make the appropriate investments sooner (aka now) rather than later. This is one of the few legs that the North American carriers have a leg over their foreign counterparts – this study shows as much, and rather comprehensively.

It’s time the rest of the world caught up – and fast.

Is inflight WiFi important to you, even if at a small cost? If it isn’t now, it probably will be in the near future.

**Also: a massive props to RouteHappy for putting out this study and publishing for all to see!**

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