Wi-Fi Above 10,000 Feet: Which Airlines Provide Best Connection?

Once upon a time, air travel was just about the only time I could escape the Internet. Now with in-flight Wi-Fi becoming more pervasive, even air travel has become a time to check Twitter, respond to emails and keep up with Arsenal's latest loss. I nearly always fly Delta, which has Wi-Fi on virtually every flight. But for those who fly other airlines, here's a quick review of which airlines lead and which lag in providing in-flight Wi-Fi.

As of September 2012, only 31% of US domestic flights came equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi, nearly always through GoGo Internet, though there are other options. Then, as now, Delta led the pack, but now everyone, including Delta, has expanded coverage. While only 5 to 10% of travelers actually use in-flight Wi-Fi, for those who do, it can be essential. (And peace destroying, but that's hardly the airlines' fault.)

Here's how things stack up:

  • Air Canada: A few 319s have GoGo service, but only for travel over the US
  • AirTran: All planes have GoGo Wi-Fi
  • American: GoGo available on all 767-200 and 737 aircraft and most MD80 and 757 aircraft
  • Alaska: GoGo on virtually all flights over the lower 48 states, except for a few of the oldest 737-400s
  • Delta: Wifi on nearly all domestic flights, including all 319s, 320s, 737-700s, 757-300s, 767-300s, MD88s, MD90s, CRJ 700/900s and ERJ 170/175s, plus some DC9-50s and 757-200s. International flights are promised "soon" but there is no definition of "soon."
  • Frontier: GoGo available only on Embraer 190 aircraft.
  • JetBlue: Doesn't provide Wi-Fi at all, but promises a dramatically faster service in the near future.
  • Southwest: Southwest uses Row 44, and just announced that 70% of its flights now have in-flight Wi-Fi, including all of its -700 and -800 aircraft
  • United: GoGo currently on transcontinental "PS" flights only, and has started rolling out service to its international flights, with just two 747s equipped with satellite Wi-Fi systems as of March 2013, but is adding Wi-Fi to roughly 25 (domestic) planes each month in 2013. United will reportedy "first outfit the narrow body planes — such as the Airbus 319 and 320 — which fly domestically, but will also have more than 50 wide-body, international aircraft outfitted by the end of the year"
  • US Airways: GoGo on all Airbus 321s, and is expanding to all Embraer 170, 175 and 190 aircraft in 2013
  • Virgin America: GoGo on all planes, and up to 100 miles into Mexico

As for airlines outside the US, Ed Perkins points out that all of them use satellite systems, with some of the more advanced airlines being Emirates (Wi-Fi on all 380s), Gulf Air (more than 50% of its planes carry Wi-Fi), Lufthansa (Wi-Fi available on all 330s, some 340s and 747s) and Singapore ("select" planes). British Airways offers something called handheld link which allows you to use your mobile phone in the air, but it's not Wi-Fi.

As it stands, your best options for in-flight Wi-Fi are in the US. Abroad, well, you might just have to read a book.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.