In What Circumstances Do I Pay For Airline WiFi?

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While I make it a known fact here at Young Travelers of Hong Kong that I am currently incapable of funding my own travels, I’m on my own when it comes to purchasing WiFi on planes. I used to be just fine without using WiFi on planes, and continue to enjoy flights that aren’t WiFi equipped. However, up in the air is my favourite place to be, so it’s all the better when I get to text, work and stay updated in the air as well, right? 😉

img_5561Putting together my favourite things: a double-engine wing view and my YTHK Editor page

Unfortunately internet in the air is rarely free (as it shouldn’t be, since broadband is limited in the air), so the question boils down to if I should pay for internet when in the air. So when do I pay for internet while flying?

Here are a few pointers that I run through before purchasing inflight WiFi.

I never connect my laptop when usage is limited

My laptop is constantly hooked up to multiple sources that require Internet. Many automatic notifications require internet, I always keep Skype and the WhatsApp desktop app open, and I’m always accustomed to using Google Chrome, which uses up more data than it probably should. Most of my online laptop work is rather heavy-duty, which involves uploading photos, videos, etc., so I just don’t use my computer if I’m limited to, say, 150 MB of WiFi.

Instead, I keep my phone hooked up, as it uses data at a much slower rate.

I would justify paying US$4/hour of usage for unlimited inflight WiFi

WiFi on a plane is a luxury, and obviously prices are relatively high. Out of all the airlines I’ve flown, I currently think that Lufthansa has offered the best longhaul inflight WiFi, as I’ve been able to pay US$17 for an entire flight’s worth of unlimited WiFi. I’m cool with splurging to pay US$4 per hour of WiFi usage when WiFi is unlimited, due to the amount of work I’d manage to catch up on. By this I’m talking about the amount of time that I expect to be awake onboard a flight – in other words, I’d gladly pitch in US$30 on an eight-hour daytime flight for WiFi, though would be much more hesitant on a redeye where I know most of the flight time would be spent asleep.

img_5495I was very content with my ~US$2.5/hour value of used inflight WiFi flying Lufthansa business class

Ultimately if flight time doesn’t exceed two hours I wouldn’t spend US$8 for the ability to connect to the world for such a short time, especially when the majority of the flight time would be spent taxiing, taking off, and having a meal. I’d say that for flights exceeding three hours, I would consider purchasing inflight WiFi at the above rate.

I don’t mind paying ~US$10-15 for a 150+ MB package on a longhaul flight

On the surface, paying US$10-15 just to keep my phone connected seems a little steep on an airplane. However, I’ve found that 150 MB has been more than enough to keep my phone updated with messaging and news for the majority of a flight (as long as I’m not sending photos, videos, etc.), which I value. I wouldn’t mind purchasing multiple plans that add up to a similar price point as well, though I find that to be rare (usually 30-50 MB packages go for ~US$7 due to economies of scale, which is ridiculous in proportion).

two seats in a plane150 MB lasted me 7-8 hours of non-continuous use on the 12-hour flight from London Heathrow to Hong Kong in Virgin Atlantic premium economy

Ultimately I wouldn’t need a 150 MB package on a shorthaul flight unless I was discussing something urgent with someone.

Airlines where I would avoid buying inflight WiFi

The airline where I know I would avoid buying WiFi at all costs is Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines offers a solid onboard product, though their WiFi costs are expensive. It costs US$20 on Singapore Airlines to purchase a 50 MB price plan, where I can get unlimited inflight internet on Lufthansa or Finnair for less. Singapore Airlines operates some 777-300ERs that price WiFi much more reasonably – WiFi is priced much more reasonably on those jets, though unfortunately they’re not usually flown to Hong Kong (these would be most of the Singapore Airlines 777-300ERs that don’t feature premium economy).

screens screenshot of a phoneSingapore Airlines Airbus A380 OnAir WiFi Pricing

Similarly, most airline WiFi provided by OnAir is unproportionally expensive, and the WiFi speeds aren’t known to be particularly fast either.

a large airplane at an airportThai Airways uses OnAir WiFi on most of their WiFi equipped planes as well

Bottom Line

Inflight WiFi is amazing. Throughout the past ten years we’ve gone from barely being able to power on our electronics on planes to being able to stay connected to loved ones inflight. That’s just one of many indications of the increasing technology trajectory. Ultimately everyone values WiFi differently, though as one who likes to stay connected and productive, the above pointers are a rather general indication of how I prefer to value WiFi.Obviously special circumstances may apply (if a family member or friend gets extremely sick right before takeoff, I might invest in a US$20 50 MB package just to check on them every once in a while), so these

Obviously special circumstances may apply (if a family member or friend gets extremely sick right before takeoff, I might invest in a US$20 50 MB package just to check on them every once in a while), so the above prices are only observable ceteris paribus.

How do you value inflight WiFi? Am I way off?

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