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.
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.
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.
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.