Up in the Air With Internet

During my flight, a woman across the aisle leaned over and asked, “You’re online? How much is that?”

“My pass cost me $16,” I said. I had added the Wi-Fi option as a “flight extra” before I checked-in, and the 24-hour pass was ready for me to use when we were up in the air.

The woman opened her laptop and started fiddling around. “Oh, it says it’s $10 for 30 minutes, or $33 for the flight,” she said. She considered her prospects for a minute and then closed her laptop.

Sixteen dollars seems like a reasonable amount of money to access okay internet (you can’t stream anything, or do anything that requires a lot of bandwidth) on a plane during a cross-country flight, but $33? I agreed with the woman’s decision.

CNET explains that Gogo, the largest provider of in-flight Wi-Fi, charges so much on planes because its operating costs are high, and the higher rate is supposed to deter people from using the service. The Wi-Fi service can only support so many users, and if a planeload of people used it all at once, the experience would be terribly slow.

If you do forget to pre-pay for a Wi-Fi pass and realize you need to access the internet on the plane, the CNET article also suggests the following: trick Gogo into thinking your laptop is a mobile phone.

Some providers, like Gogo, charge less for mobile access based on your browser ID. So, before your flight, install the User Agent Switcher for Chrome or Firefox and set it to mobile.

I was using Gogo for work and would be expensing the cost anyway, and if I were on vacation, I would grab at a chance to go offline for a while and dig into a book or watch some terrible movies on the flight and cry.

This story is part of our Travel Month series.

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