How I learned to love inflight WiFi, even when I’m not using it

The idea of being disconnected during your flight has understandable appeal, but WiFi is the new norm.

By David Flynn, July 8 2022
How I learned to love inflight WiFi, even when I’m not using it

You would think that as a former technology journalist and long-time tech enthusiast, who is both a business traveller and a very frequent flyer, that I would have been among the first to welcome inflight Internet. But you’d think wrong.

For many years I not only enjoyed those hours of solitude between take-off and landing, especially on international flights, I looked forward to them.

They were an island of isolation in this hyper-connected world, a slice of indulgent ‘me time’ given over to reading and the odd bingefest (a habit I quickly learned to tame).

Well, that was the theory – and it still applies in parts.

But I'm as likely as not to be working during my flights: scything my way through the inbox, writing up articles and what-not.

Even without WiFi, I’m generally able to work without interruption and enjoy more ‘headroom’’ that a busy day on the ground can allow.

But I’m increasingly jumping on flights to find inflight WiFi is temptingly available. Indeed, the lack of it is now the exception – and as a result I’m becoming very accustomed, if not conditioned, to being connected above the clouds.

Sky-high WiFi

On the local front, almost all domestic Qantas flights now offer WiFi which is pleasingly fast and free – we’re still waiting for Virgin Australia to flick the switch and brings its own WiFi service back online.

And the roster of international airlines with WiFi-equipped flights continues to grow, although speed – or lack of it – has become the greatest hurdle. Sub-1Mbps connections and choppy coverage makes the experience less reliable and more frustrating than not having WiFi at all.

Most domestic flights on Qantas now offer WiFi that's fast and free.
Most domestic flights on Qantas now offer WiFi that's fast and free.

Broad availability of inflight Internet has definitely changed the way I travel for business, and changed it for the better.

My long-standing habit has been to use time at the airport lounge to prepare for my inflight work session.

That meant going through a checklist of material to download for reading and reference at 40,000 feet, sometimes also grabbing images and doing other online research to use this for my ‘disconnected’ writing session during the flight.

Once I landed – sometimes at an arrivals lounge, othertimes en route to the hotel – I'd jump back online, filing stories and sending out that tsunami of emails, while  a bucketload of new emails hit the inbox.

When being connected counts

But with a decent inflight Internet connection, that's all done in realtime.

I still do some work and research pre-flight but it's not at the same pace, with the clock ticking before I board.

For example, I can prioritise larger downloads or the lounge's faster connection but not feel stranded if I miss something. (As a side-effect, this means my lounge time has also become more enjoyable.)

I'm obviously more productive during the flight, especially as I can pick up and attend to new emails right away if they require it. Many times I’ve even written and published ‘breaking news’ pieces in the air. 

Inflight Internet is now the rule, rather than the exception.
Inflight Internet is now the rule, rather than the exception.

And here’s another thing about inflight WiFi: you don’t have to log on.

It's there if you need it, and that alone is reassuring, not only to business travellers but anybody who appreciates that social tether back to friends and family.

But I make it a run not to reflexively jump online during every WiFi-connected flight.

And when I do hit that Connect button, I rarely work for the entirety of the flight, apart from some odd daytime legs from Australia to Asia or from the UK to a Gulf hub such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.

On trans-Pacific trips to the US I'll generally work for the first few hours of the flight; enjoy a light meal with a movie; then sleep; and follow up with another few hours of work before landing.

In any event, I find that I’m more relaxed on landing. There’s no wave of emails to send or receive. I feel more on top of things. And best of all, when I reach the hotel I can settle straight in rather than still be playing catch-up.

Put that together and it's a magical mix of increased productivity, increased relaxation and less  stress, and that's how inflight WiFi won me over.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

I wouldn't worry too much David :-)

QF might have international WiFi available on one or two their new A350's in 2025, provided Airbus delivers on time. And with a bit of luck, this might coincide with the A380's actually being fitted with WiFi (but I'll only believe it when I see it). Yes, I know QF believes that KA-Band technology is 'worth waiting for' (hmm, it was *supposed* to appear later this year, but has been delayed), but Elon's new skylink technology might be causing another 're-think'. 

Just think, it was 2012 when QF did their first international A380 WiFi test - a whole 10 years ago - and we still don't have access despite being some of the longest flights in the world. Lets not mention that WiFi is an Australian invention and we should be show-casing technology.  

Pardon my cynicism.  

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 526

Not sure about “almost all domestic Qantas flights now offer WiFi which is pleasingly fast and free ” as it’s largely limited to certain jet plane types which mostly ply the inter capital routes (and even then not all city flyer flights have wifi capacity) so forget about QantasLink and some other Qantas routes.

So far in my experience 1 in 5 flights with wifi capacity doesn’t have working service and most of the time the speed of wifi is probably slower than hotel free wifi, drops out pretty often (and that not because I was streaming anything at any time)

Nevertheless free is free and I do still appreciate this service whenever available and usable

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2547

I based the "almost all" comment on the domestic 737s and A330s, as they cover most domestic routes. Interesting you've experienced slow speeds, I find I consistently get 10+Mbps, which may be slower than many hotels but still faster than many international airlines using satellite systems. it'll be interesting to see what model Virgin rolls out when (if) they bring WiFi back.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 341

Of late QF wifi is dreadfully slow in Business - the whole aircraft is using free eifi.  Perhaps the model adopted by United where a small fee applies, also on Cathay Pacific, where it used to be US$27  for the 15 or so hours from JFK to HKG  Or even Lufthansa First where there is always unlimited high speed wifi on unlimited devices  for an entire intercontinental flight.  I beleive VA use Lufthansa Technik , or used to, for their wifi

12 Aug 2019

Total posts 12

Yep, same.  Nice to know its there if you need it, especially when you’ve got a lot of balls in the air in the ground.


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