Having WI-Fi while flying is nothing new. Airlines started installing the services back in 2008. At the time it was a novel thing to send an instant message or email while flying through the air. That’s about all it was good for because download speeds were abysmally slow and service was spotty at best. Forget about loading a webpage or, even worse, trying to see a YouTube video.
The service has gotten better over the years but I never depend on having functional Wi-Fi when flying. In fact, I’ve even learned how to get work done when the Wi-Fi on the plane isn’t working.
However, things are changing. In fact, Panasonic Avionics teamed up with a major airline in late 2020 and gave passengers unlimited high-speed in-flight internet to see what they would do. This is what happened.
The previous market leader, Gogo, is now seeing competition from other providers. In 2018, American Airlines started using Viasat’s Wi-Fi services on some of its planes and now American has a mixture of Gogo, Viasat and Panasonic throughout the fleet.
I’ve never had a chance to try out an American plane with the Viasat service until recently. I have to say that I’m impressed. The gate to gate pass cost me $15 and I used it solely on my phone for the first flight. Not only could I use Twitter, Facebook and read emails, but I was also able to stream YouTube videos with zero lag. I didn’t do a speed check but it felt the same as using the phone on cellular data or at home.
On the flight home, I pulled out my computer to get some work done. While American’s 737-800 isn’t conducive to working while sitting in the economy section, I wasn’t going to pay $70 to upgrade to MCE for a 2-hour flight.
The download speed was a respectable 16.06 Mbps and the upload speed was 1.16 Mbps.
I checked again later and the speed improved. I’m not sure if this was due to fewer people using the service or if we got a better connection. Download speed increased to 29.73 Mbps while the upload speed was a tad slower.
For comparison, here’s the speed from my home internet. The biggest difference is the upload speed.
American Airlines is very confident in the Viasat service and now I can see why. They’re currently letting all passengers on Viasat-enabled flights watch 30 minutes of TikTok videos for free to show off the capability.
I only have two data points to go from but if in-flight Wi-Fi is going to be like this, it will be much harder to come up with an excuse not to be productive while in the air.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary