Five tips for making the most of inflight Internet

By Chris C., March 11 2015
Five tips for making the most of inflight Internet

Inflight wireless Internet access is quickly becoming a staple of international travel, but with hundreds of passengers fighting for the same connection, download speeds can leave much to be desired.

Here are five simple ways to get the most out of your inflight Internet experience and to maximise your download speeds at 40,000 feet.

1. Don’t expect what you’d get at home

If you normally browse the web on a high-speed connection such as ADSL2+ or even NBN fibre, know that the speeds you’ll get in the air won’t match what’s available on the ground.

Consider also that your home Internet connection is yours alone, whereas on an aircraft, just one satellite or ground link-up is shared between everybody on board.

Additionally, the service isn’t only used by business travellers sending and receiving simple, text-based emails – holidaymakers and first-time travellers frequently check-in on Facebook and Instagram, and chew up much of the available bandwidth with selfies and shots of their inflight meal.

Even before setting the internet free on-board, Emirates’ own record saw a whopping 153 passengers connect to inflight Wi-Fi on a single Airbus A380 flight – making for slower uploads and downloads for all.

2. Limit your browsing to one or two windows

The advent of tabbed browsing makes multitasking easy for beginners and seasoned surfers alike: say, email in one tab, Facebook in the second, Twitter in the next, your company’s Intranet portal in another, and the list goes on.

Even when the tabs are hidden away, many of these websites continuously update in the background.

For example, leave a Facebook window open and the list of online chat users is frequently refreshed, you’re made aware of any new notifications and your news feed is updated at regular intervals.

Multiply that across several windows and websites and you’re wasting valuable bandwidth on what is likely an already-slow connection, so stick to just one or two tabs at a time and you’ll get the job done faster.

3. Forget Outlook: use webmail instead

Unless you’ve configured your email software to download attachments only by request, a single picture-laden email arriving when you’re on inflight Wi-Fi easily chews through your data allowance, not to mention slowing down your other browsing in the meantime.

Instead, check your inbox via webmail – you’ll be able to see what’s there without downloading everything in one go, and if there’s one particular email or attachment you want to zone-in on, it’s easily done without syncing everything.

The only exception to this rule? If you’re one of the only passengers connected to the Internet, it does makes sense to sync your Outlook inbox while the connection is speedy, and you can then write your replies and schedule them to send once you’ve reached the hotel, or later in the flight if the Internet is still working well.

4. Disable your backup and automatic update software

Another hides-in-the-background-but-wastes-your-Internet feature to switch off: automatic software updates and backups.

That’s everything from Windows Update and Apple ‘Always Update’ through to cloud-based backup software such as CrashPlan, automated web browser updates including those of Firefox and Safari, plus Java and iTunes.

Rather than disabling certain backups, you may simply be able to pause them.
Rather than disabling certain backups, you may simply be able to pause them.

On time-based plans these can slow your browsing down to a crawl, and on data-based inflight Internet connections, your session can be over with just a few minutes of accidental cloud backup.

The same goes for smartphones which can be programmed to backup and perform app updates when connected to Wi-Fi, the screen is locked and you’ve plugged it in – particularly the Apple iPhone.

5. Watch your time and data usage closely

One thing we’ve noticed about timed inflight Internet plans: they seldom advise how long you actually have left in your session.

On the other hand, connections measures by data will normally provide a progress bar on the hotspot’s welcome page – so although we advised against running multiple tabs, this is one we’re willing to grant an exception for.

Check it often, and if one isn’t available, use the built-in counters on your laptop: but bear in mind that these date back to the moment you joined the wireless network, not from when you actually got through to the outside world:

There you can spot the time you’ve been connected to the Wi-Fi, along with how much data you’ve consumed.

Look to the ‘millions’ columns of both the ‘sent’ and ‘received’ stats, and add them together for a rough count in megabytes – in our case, we’ve gone through around 320MB.

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 504

6. Get on AusBT and tell everyone how the internet is.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2207

Thanks to The Oatmeal.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

How about Skype?

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2476

What about Skype?


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

It was a joke - Skype is very hungry (and with video most hungry) application for traffic. Yet most desirable.

So unless they make real broadband for everyone on board (and this is not going to happens anytime soon) Internet in the air has limited usability to say it most politely.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

BTW webmail consume significantly more traffic (and therefore significantly slower) then email with proper client like Thunderbird for example. Outlook also can be configured properly, though in “standard” configuration it rubbish. Actually it rubbish in any configuration. Email clients in i-devises are very good indeed.


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