Inflight Internet is commonplace in the US but in Australia it's closer to a novelty than the norm.
That's shaped one of my longtime pre-flight habits of working a bit too solidy in the lounge before boarding my flight, especially firing off last-minute emails and doing some online research when I'm facing a deadline.
And that was how things were ahead of a recent Singapore Airlines flight from Sydney to Singapore – until the penny dropped that my SQ Airbus A380 flight would let me indulge in a little 'sky-high surfing' instead of facing almost eight hours of disconnectivity.
Let me point out that there's nothing wrong with being off the grid.
Flying remains a splendid pocket of isolation, of increasingly rare 'me' time, which is perfect for reading that book, catching up with a few movies or binge-viewing several episodes of a favourite TV show.
However I'd rather be off the grid by choice, and equally be able to choose to plug in at 40,000 feet – especially for work, and doubly so if it means I can relax a little both before and after the flight.
That sets the scene for this review of Singapore Airlines' inflight Internet service on its Airbus A380 superjumbo jets.
Once the flight reached cruising altitude, the satellite-based OnAir service was available by simply connecting to a WiFi hotspot on the plane.
Clicking your Web browser app opens a 'welcome' page where you can begin the sign-up process.
Unlike Etihad Airways' WiFly service, which charges passengers based on how long they choose to connect for, the Singapore Airlines model measures how much data you use online.
Smartphone users are given a choice of two plans: US$5.99 for 5MB and US$9.99 for 10MB.
Fire up your tablet or laptop and you'll see a different screen with more generous but also more costly plans: 15MB of data at US$14.99, or 30MB charged at US$28.99.
On average, then, the plans all come in at about $1 per MB.
What happens when you go over the prescribed data limits?
You can opt to remain connected, and be charged an additional US15c per 100KB of data, or be automatically logged off and then reconnect by purchasing another 10MB or 30MB package.
(Both plans work out at around US$1 per MB while the excess usage tariff comes in at US$1.50/MB, so in most cases you're better off being disconnected and then buying a second 15MB or 30MB plan.)
Step 2: create an inflight user ID, which is pretty straightforward...
... ditto for providing your credit card details.
You're then just one click away from being online.
There are, however, a few things to bear in mind before you get this far.
First up: don't confuse this for the Internet connection at your office, home, airport lounge or even the local cafe. It's nowhere near as fast.
This may mean temporarily changing your habits to working with just one browser window or tab at a time, and keeping focussed on the task at hand rather than allowing yourself to be distracted viewing non-essential sites which will chew up your limited data allowance.
This type of inflight Internet service isn't intended for watching YouTube video clips or downloading anything other than email attachments – and even those will edge you towards that 15MB or 30MB cap.
For instance, when downloading email through my MacBook Air's Mail app, a single email sent to me by a hotel PR agency contained several unrequested (and frankly, irrelevant) high-resolution photos as attachments which quickly gobbled up almost a third of my 30MB allowance.
The lesson here is to temporarily disable the automatic downloading of attachments in your email software or, perhaps simpler, use any Web-based interface to your email account (such as Google Apps mail) so that you can choose to read the body of a message without also having attachments shoved down the pipeline.
Something else to do: disable any cloud backup software your laptop or tablet may be running.
Such apps typically just sit there in the background and do their stuff without you noticing, but if you're using inflight Internet they'll substantially slow your connection while also using up every bit of data you've bought.
In which case, before you know it, you'll be staring at this screen:
Singapore Airlines' inflight Internet service doesn't have the same value as that of Etihad Airways – SQ's US$29 for 30MB of data is more expensive than Etihad's US$22 to stay online for the entire flight – but at least you still have the option to get some work done as you fly from A to B, which is more productive in the air and makes life a little more enjoyable on the ground.
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