British Airways came somewhat late to the WiFi party, but is steadily rolling out the technology across its network, from short domestic and European hops to long-range international routes.
It’s the latter where inflight Internet proves most useful: anywhere from eight to 14 hours can punch a black hole in your working schedule, creating the need for an often-frantic catch-up marathon once you land.
The presence of WiFi was particularly welcome on a recent BA flight. It was one of those short-notice trips which finds you with plenty of work to plough through and loose ends to tidy up, including booking a hotel at my destination. This proved a perfect opportunity to put British Airways’ WiFi to the test.
British Airways’ international WiFi plans and pricing
On its longer international routes, BA offers two connection speeds – tellingly labelled Browse and Stream – with packages of one hour, four hours and a ‘full flight pass’ available for each speed.
Browse is your basic WiFi service for the Web, email (especially Web-based email), social media and messaging.
Stream offers a faster connection for video and music streaming as well as more solid working sessions, especially if there’s a bit of uploading and downloading to be done.
On each leg of my Sydney-Singapore-London BA16 flight, pricing was set as follows:
|Browse||1 hour||£4.99 (A$8.90)|
|Browse||4 hours||£10.99 (A$19.50)|
|Browse||Full flight||£14.99 (A$26.60)|
|Stream||1 hour||£7.99 (A$14.20)|
|Stream||4 hours||£17.99 (A$31.90)|
|Stream||Full flight||£23.99 (A$42.60)|
The one-hour and four-hour plans run in one continuous block, and the countdown timer keeps ticking away even if you disconnect – there’s no ‘pause now, come back and keep going later’ option.
The ‘full flight’ pass applies only to any single leg of a journey, so on the likes of BA15 – which flies London-Singapore-Sydney – a flight pass would be valid only for the London-Singapore or Singapore-Sydney leg.
Also, passengers can connect only one device: you can’t switch devices partway through a session.
How fast is BA WiFi?
En route from Sydney to Singapore to London, the Browse speed ranged from 170kbps to 1Mbps for downloading, with an average around 0.5Mbps (uploading was between 160kbps and 1Mbps).
The bottom end of this range falls below BA’s claim that Browse will deliver a “minimum 250kbps experience”. Browse is clearly for very modest use, including messaging and web-based email, and was often an exercise in Zen patience.
It’s also worth noting that although the WiFi plans are costed on how long you connect for rather than how much data you use, British Airways has a ‘data traffic fair usage policy’ which keeps a lid on your downloading (and uploading, for that matter).
For Browse-based packages, BA says it allows the first 35MB of downloads “within an hour”, after which the connection is throttled to a maximum download speed of 400kbps.
Optioning up to the higher-speed Stream package made all the difference, but only on the Singapore-London leg of the flight where I clocked an average of 5Mbps.
Suddenly I was back in the (relatively) fast lane, a bit like being at a cafe with modest WiFi. I could zip around web sites, work with email attachments and download files from Dropbox.
Even Netflix (for which BA offers a freer 30-day trial) became useable, although there was still a fair amount of buffering if I tried to skip forward or back through a video: the best approach was just to hit ‘play’ and sit back.
By comparison, Stream speeds on the Sydney-Singapore leg of my flight varied from 500Kbps to 1.4Mbps and averaged around 1Mbps: certainly not enough for ‘streaming’ video.
In summary, British Airways’ WiFi plans for its longest flights can be a bit hit-and-miss. Based on my experience with this flight, the Browse packages are hard to recommend due to their very low speeds. The highly-priced Stream packages work well, but with the proviso that you get the promised speeds – something you won’t know until you enter your credit card details and click the Connect button.
David Flynn travelled as a guest of British Airways.