Every time I take a flight, I cringe over how bad the Wi-Fi experience will be. Years ago, I got excited when airlines started to offer Wi-Fi connectivity for the flying public. However, after using the service, I quickly learned it was too slow and the service was too spotty to get any real use out of it. I thought, over time it would get better. I was wrong.

Today, the service is still just as slow and spotty as ever. So, is there any way to get good connectivity at 35,000 feet? Let’s take a look.

Airlines and wi-fi services often offer texting service at no charge. Sometimes that works pretty well. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, a consistent and dependable, paid broadband connection is still beyond their reach after decades of trying.

To have useable wi-fi on your flight depends on four things; the airline, the aircraft, the wi-fi provider and where you are flying to.

Airline Wi-Fi providers: Gogo, Panasonic, Thales, ViaSat/Exede, On-Air, Row 44

Some of the companies that offer inflight airline wi-fi include; Gogo, Panasonic, Thales, ViaSat/Exede, On-Air, Row 44 and others.

You would think service would get faster and more reliable year after year. It hasn’t. One problem is the airline has to sign a long-term contract with one provider. This means there is no pressure to improve service. Another problem is, it is expensive to outfit their airplanes with technology that is slow to upgrade. So, sometimes we are using decade old wi-fi technology.

You see, there are two ways an airplane gets wi-fi signal. One is from satellites and two is from land-based cellular or wi-fi towers.

Some airlines offer inflight wi-fi, while others don’t. Within an airline, some individual airplanes offer wi-fi, while others don’t. However, even if you are sitting on a wi-fi enabled plane, it also depends on the company and service that airline uses. It also depends where you are flying. Are you flying over cities with towers or over the ocean or mountains with no towers?

Some airlines like Hawaiian Airlines stay away from offering in-flight Wi-FI altogether.

Why airline Wi-Fi speed, quality, reliability is still not good

If you think about it, that means even if you are flying over the continental USA there will be times when you have service and times when you don’t. When you are flying over oceans or mountains or deserts, you lose ground-based signal.

This means watching live TV or movies can be a problem. In fact, just downloading your email can be a problem. Flyers complain in-flight, but apparently the message isn’t getting to executive management.

Then again, if there is nothing better to switch to, there may not be an answer yet.

A better system would be an automatic handoff between high-speed towers and satellites to keep the signal as strong as possible. Unfortunately, after so many years of trying, we still do not have a perfect system. Not even close.

The mistake airlines are making with inflight Wi-Fi

That means, airlines and the media should do users a favor and be honest. Let the flying public know their wi-fi experience is a gamble. If users know the risk, they won’t get as ticked off. Let them know it’s a crap shoot whether they have a good experience or a lousy one is different on every flight.

However, they don’t tell users about how unreliable this service really is. They advertise it like crazy. This drives the customer bonkers.

When we pay for a service, we expect to get what we paid for. We don’t expect to be miserable when we don’t get it. Then when we get off the flight we have to remember to arrange for a refund, that’s even more stress.

The problem does not come from bad companies. Rather, the problem comes from the old and bad technology they sell. And the fact that providers are not honest in preparing the user for common problems in flight.

First Class often has faster wi-fi service. However, even there it’s a crap shoot.

If these wi-fi providers are not honest with the flying public, the airlines should be. After all, this it is a reflection on the flying experience when things don’t work. Flyers blame the airplane.

Especially, when you pay for something and it does not work. It’s as bad as having a TV screen or headphone jack at your seat that does not work. This happens too often as well.

Delta Airlines tries with first Class and coach Wi-Fi service

Some airlines are trying their best. Delta for example, offers GoGo wi-fi on many if not most of their flights. Today, they even offer different types of wi-fi to different parts of the plane. First Class often gets a faster and more reliable connection than Coach Class. It’s still not consistent, but it’s better.

While this is commendable, it does raise the question, if they can do better for First Class, why not Coach Class? What airlines should do is offer the faster service to all customers depending what they want to pay for. However, that kind of volume may slow the speed.

After all, someone may want a cheaper seat, but still want or need faster Internet. First Class flyers get meals and drinks included, while Coach Class has to pay. However, either way, every passenger gets to choose whatever they want, they just have to pay for it.

This is what airlines should offer their wi-fi users as well. This will not solve the problem of satellite or tower connectivity, but it will be a big step in the right direction.

Why does airline inflight Wi-Fi still stink after two decades of trying?

After 10 or 20 year of offering inflight Wi-Fi service, we as a society expect more. We demand better connectivity. We understand that planes fly hundreds of miles per hour and need different technology to offer good quality service. We understand there are more challenges to this kind of service.

What we don’t understand is why there is so little innovation and improvement. This reminds me of the satellite radio business and Sirius XM. This offers customers the chance to get broadcast stations from radio and television, nationally. However, there has been little or no innovation in this technology in the last few decades.

Innovation and improvement need to come to airline in-flight wi-fi. If not, it will continue to gnaw at the brand value of each airline like a termite. Any improvement in reliability, connectivity and speed would be noticed and appreciated by the flying public who are at the mercy of these airlines and in-flight wi-fi providers.

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