If you’re on the go, there’s only one WiFi-wasteland left: air space. Correction. Ten years ago that may have been the case. Nowadays, it’s safe to say that WiFi on planes is very much here. However, it can be rare to locate and the connection can be pretty useless which is why we delved deeper to get the real story about WiFi on planes.

When thinking about WiFi on planes, there are plenty of questions to be asked. For example: Are there any European airlines that offer WiFi? Does in-flight WiFi cost anything? Is it actually usable? And how on earth do planes with WiFi work?!

So without further ado here’s our frequent flyer’s one-stop guide to WiFi on planes.

Do planes have WiFi?

Yes, some actually do. If you are on a long distance or transatlantic flight, then you will probably be offered WiFi. If you’re on a short flight zipping between European cities, it’s more unlikely – but not impossible!

Who exactly will give me my in-flight WiFi?

When it comes to WiFI on planes, long distance and US domestic flights are way ahead of the European game. However, there are a few inter-European airlines that offer it.

wifi on planes

European Airlines offering Wi-Fi:

Monarch was one of the pioneers of “WiFi” on planes several years ago, but unfortunately what they actually mean by internet services is their so-called “M-Player” – A free app where you can buy TV, film and music streaming packages on board, but not surf.

Icelandair, offers both transatlantic and European routes, with WiFi on its entire fleet.

Air Berlin has WiFi, but you need to sell your soul to get it. Download the app beforehand, fiddle around once in the air to connect, and then finally buy a package.

Norwegian Air seems to be the only European airline offering sacrifice-free in-flight WiFi.

How much does WiFi on planes cost?

It seems that the winning provider of free in-flight WiFi for Europe-only flights is Norwegian Air. Other airlines with WiFi charge you for it. Monarch‘s streaming service only costs €4.50 (approx $5). Air Berlin has a variety of packages, from €4.90 (approx. $5.30) for 30 mins.

Why do I have to pay?

Much as we’d like to blame them for being unreasonable, airlines actually have very justifiable reasons for charging for WiFi. It’s pretty tricky to engineer WiFi on planes and the antenna can burden the aircraft by increasing drag – so the company has to shell out more for fuel. Hence why they’ll make you pay for using it. 

Is WiFi on planes actually any good?

wifi on planes

Although WiFi on planes is currently cutting-edge technology, it is still miles behind the internet speeds we can expect on the ground. As well as the slow internet connection, there can also be delays caused by too many passengers trying to connect simultaneously.

However, having said this in-flight WiFi can be a real saving grace when it comes to solving simple issues like how to get to your accommodation from the airport. It does certainly add a convenience element. 

How does in-flight WiFi actually work?

The previously mentioned antenna is the source of the magic – it picks up signals either from the ground or from satellites. There’s a router on board which works pretty much like a normal router – distributing WiFi to everyone.

Our Tip: It’s a good idea to check your airline’s WiFi instructions before flying. Unfortunately, some airlines do require you to download an app to get online or others ask you to switch to ‘flight mode’ during take off and you can then connect to the in-flight WiFi once the seatbelt sign goes off. Do your research before to avoid disappointment!

Is the future bright for WiFi on planes?

It’s no longer a question of “Is there WiFi on planes?”; the question is, when it is going to be better, faster, cheaper, and most importantly, everywhere?

We’ve already mentioned that intercontinental flights are pretty established in the in-flight WiFi business, but Europe is also upping its game. Deutsche Telekom and telecommunications company Inmarsat are hatching a plan to guarantee Europe-wide airborne access to WiFi.

There are whispers in the media that this could happen later in 2017 in the form of the European Aviation Network. Just recently in February 2017 Inmarsat completed testing for the part of the EAN’s infrastructure – so perhaps quality WiFi on planes in European skies isn’t that far away.

When the EAN does launch, it will be a network, with multiple airlines throughout Europe already looking to sign up. Keep an eye out: even short distance ringleaders easyJet and Ryanair are looking into getting in-flight WiFi.

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