In-Flight Internet Access May Soon Suck a Little Bit Less

In Depth

If you’re tired of in-flight Wi-Fi that’s so slow you can’t even Google “how to get the hell off of this ancient airplane,” hang in there. It gets better, hopefully.

According to Buzzfeed, only one in five domestic flights offer Wi-Fi (a number that sounds really pathetic to me, despite my endless hours clocked with United, which has been exceedingly slow in upgrading its fleet for Wi-Fi—I guess I just assumed the grass was greener on every other airline). But upgrading a plane for Wi-Fi is an expensive endeavor and no matter what they say, it doesn’t take too many flights for you to see that customer convenience is pretty low on most carriers’ list of concerns.

JetBlue’s director of product development, Jamie Perry, told Buzzfeed that Wi-Fi is “a basic human right,” which sounds hilarious—yes, of course internet access is up there with dignity, life, and liberty—but consider how annoyed many of us get when we sit down at a cafe only to find there’s no internet access. As such, JetBlue offers free Wi-Fi service (cloyingly titled Fly-Fi).

For those carriers that charge a fee for their glacial Wi-Fi, the quality of internet access should be improving: American, Delta, and United use Gogo for their in-flight Wi-Fi (which offers daily or monthly passes), and Gogo is planning to upgrade in 2016 to a satellite system, which should be faster than its current land-based system (it’s sounds like they may offer both speeds to users, with the satellite option costing more for those who want to extra oomph).

Admittedly I’ve long been torn on in-flight Wi-Fi; until recently, the one place where I could escape the ceaseless demands (and distractions) of an omni-wired life was at 35,000 feet. On airplanes, I could read actual books and magazines. Things that were more than 500 words. It was one of the few situations (perhaps the only situation) in which I was capable of focusing on one single thing for an extended period of time—no small feat for me, as working online for the past decade has taken an ADD-esque toll on my ability to be present (buzzword!), but flying forced me to be offline and maybe kept my brain from completely deteriorating.

As I became a very frequent flier, however, and was on an airplane twice weekly, the inability to consistently get online became an inconvenience, even on my relatively short flights. I was traveling for business but unable to actually tackle any business on the commute, and meeting the needs of business travelers is pretty important to airlines (American Airlines, for instance, says 25% of its fliers account 70% of its revenue; these are the customers who are constantly traveling for work). Business travelers want solid internet access, so solid internet access they shall get. Hopefully.

That said, even when I wasn’t traveling for work, I started to feel like I could or should always be doing something online: cleaning out my inbox or, you know, cruising Zappos and buying shoes I didn’t need. On the whole, I was screwing around, plain and simple, and maybe I have come to view that as an important customer “right.” Which feels so high-maintenance, but as many of us spend a huge chunk of time plugged in and are seeing the increasing availability of Wi-Fi access to enable our behavior, our expectations change. And that’s okay, but a little perspective never hurts. For that, let us turn to Louis CK.

Top image via Shutterstock.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Flygirl is Jezebel’s travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.

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