How to use in-flight Wi-Fi to stay productive

Know which airlines offer internet connection – and which cards offer it as a perk

How to use in-fligth Wi-Fi to stay productive

According to the Global Business Travel Association and creditdonkey.com, the average individual completes 12 to 14 business trips per year. Add all those trips together and that’s an estimated 1.3 million Americans buzzing the globe for business each day. That translates to a whopping 488 million trips made annually for business in the U.S.

With all that time spent in the air each year, what is the best way to stay productive?

Utilizing airline Wi-Fi to get your work done

The 2018 RouteHappy report counted 82 airlines worldwide that now offer in-flight Wi-Fi, a 17 percent increase from the 2017 report. In-flight Wi-Fi is a growing trend across the world, and many airlines based in America and abroad have made in-flight Wi-Fi capabilities available for passengers.

While JetBlue is the only American airline that offers free in-flight Wi-Fi, there are many international airlines that offer complimentary Wi-Fi, including Emirates, Norwegian, Turkish Airlines, Air China, Philippine Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Nok Air.

If you find yourself on a flight without free Wi-Fi, many airlines allow passengers to pay for services throughout the flight. You can find a breakdown of which airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi and/or GSM internet access at eDreams.

Is switching to airplane mode really necessary?

The Federal Aviation Administration rule of keeping your device on “airplane mode” could be one contributing factor to the uptick in airlines’ race to provide in-flight Wi-Fi. But is airplane mode necessary during a flight?

According to the FAA, not using airplane mode could interfere with an airplane’s sensors and potentially cause issues with navigation, communication and flight control equipment.

Pilot Nikita Schmidt reports that if you forget to switch to airplane mode, the pilot flying your plane will hear a buzzing noise in his or her headphones.

Imagine your buzzing combined with the noise from the phones of over 100 other passengers. The last thing you want is your pilot hearing a bunch of angry bees when he or she is trying to land your plane and listen to the control tower at the same time.

Wi-Fi is allowed on airplanes, however, because its emissions are around 100 times less powerful than from some 3G radios.

Business travelers: How to stay productive

If you’re a frequent business traveler, you may have no choice but to contact the office, your clients or get work done while flying. If you need to boost your productivity in the air, it’s best to follow a plan every time you travel.

Here are some ways you can maximize your in-flight Wi-Fi usage to get the most productivity out of your next business trip.

1. Save the busywork for the terminal.

If you really think about it, being on a plane means that there are limited distractions. You can use this to your advantage by completing busywork in the terminal and focusing on larger, more intensive projects on the flight.

2. Outline goals before you fly.

Prioritize the tasks you have to accomplish. Make a list of work, projects or duties that you want to complete before arrival and check them off as you go. An effective way of setting goals and a list of tasks to accomplish is time blocking. Take the time that you will be traveling and block out your time. For example, if your travel time will take two hours, schedule 30 minutes of working time and 15-minute breaks.

3. Stay organized.

Flights have limited space, so make sure you’re consolidating any paperwork or using an electronic alternative for notes and documents. Be sure that you are packing smart before you board. Any items that you’ll need should be accessible from a carry-on and easy to access for in-flight work.

4. Stay connected.

If you’re traveling for business, chances are some of your surrounding passengers are, too. Make sure that you are networking with people you meet and have your contact information easily accessible to share.

5. Take advantage of in-flight messaging.

This feature allows you to stay in contact with the office and/or quickly respond to clients. Real-time texts via iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are available free of charge with Delta and Alaska Airlines. In addition, T-Mobile is the only wireless carrier that offers in-flight texting with Over-the-Top (OTT) messaging on third-party apps like WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage and Google Hangout. (The service is available at no cost on Gogo-enabled U.S.-based flights.)

How to access in-flight Wi-Fi

The best way to stay productive on a flight is to stay connected to your work through in-flight Wi-Fi options.

According to highspeedinternet.com, the seven major airlines that offer the best overall in-flight Wi-Fi are JetBlue, Southwest, Delta, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, American and United, all determined by using Available Seat Miles (ASM), the industry standard for measuring the total service capacity of an airline. (To calculate an airline’s ASM, multiply the total number of seats in its fleet of planes by the total number of miles the airline flies in a year.)

Four airlines that don’t offer Wi-Fi are Allegiant, Frontier, Hawaiian and Spirit Airlines, so it’s easy to see that availability runs the gamut. It’s important to do your research before you board.

Service providers

Of the U.S.-based airlines listed, individual service providers include Gogo Inflight, ViaSat and Panasonic Avionics Corp.

All have various prices and speeds. With Gogo, you can subscribe to in-flight internet service plans directly. You can use that subscription to access Wi-Fi on Alaska Airlines, Delta or United.

Check out the full speed and pricing chart below:

Airline name/service provider Speed available Price Availability
Alaska Airlines/Gogo 9.8 Mbps Day pass: $16
Six 45-minute passes: $36
Monthly plan: $49.95/month
75%
Allegiant Not available Not available
Not available
American Airlines/Gogo 9.8 Mbps
Domestic flights
All-day pass: $16 plus tax 
Monthly plan: $49.95 plus tax 
International flights 
2 hours: $12 
4 hours: $17 
Full flight: $19
80%
Delta Air Lines/Gogo 15 Mbps Domestic day pass: $16
Global day pass: $28
Domestic monthly pass: $49.95
Domestic annual pass: $599.99
98%
Frontier Not available
Not available
Not available
Hawaiian Not available
Not available
Not available
JetBlue/ViaSat 12 Mbps Free 100%
Southwest/Panasonic Avionics Corp. 10 Mbps $8 per device, per day 90%
Spirit Not available
Not available
Not available
United Airlines/Gogo 9.8 Mbps $19 85%

Tips for paying for in-flight Wi-Fi

If you can, stick to airlines with free or lower rates.

Do your research to see if you can choose an airline that will get you where you’re going that doesn’t charge as much for Wi-Fi. While U.S.-based airlines are ahead of the curve as far as ASMs are concerned, international carriers are more likely to have free Wi-Fi on their flights.

Use a credit card with free Wi-Fi access.

Do your research to find out if your credit card offers free Wi-Fi, or choose one of the credit cards listed in this article. Some credit cards offer Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes each calendar year. To redeem your access and activate the passes, enter your card number on the Gogo website and then create or sign into your Gogo account. You’ll need to log in to Gogo each time you want to use a pass.

Buy Wi-Fi access in advance.

In some cases, it may be cheaper to purchase Gogo on the ground rather than pay the airline cost once in the air. If you decide to do this, Gogo offers discounted rates based on hourly and day packages. You can purchase an hour or day pass for $7 or $19, respectively. For a global day pass, however, it’ll cost $28 and it’s only available on Delta Airlines.

If you’re traveling often, buy a subscription plan or company membership.

Boingo and Gogo both offer long-term subscriptions.

Depending on the number of devices and/or locations (including global) the prices for Boingo include:

  • Mobile access worldwide for $4.95 per month for up to four mobile devices.
  • Unlimited access in the Americas for $4.95 per month for up to four of any device.
  • Global access worldwide for $39 per month for up to four devices.

Gogo charges $49.95 a month for unlimited access on participating domestic flights and $69.95 a month for international access on Delta flights. For yearly global access on any participating airline, the rate is $599 annually.

Another option is US Mobile Wi-Fi for ground or sky travel at $10 per month. US Mobile allows access on planes equipped with GoGo and Panasonic Wi-Fi. Right now, there is a waitlist for this service, but if you are a frequent traveler who needs Wi-Fi usage on flights, this could be a solid investment moving forward.

Credit cards with Wi-Fi perks

To combat the potentially steep cost of Wi-Fi on some planes, some credit cards are now throwing in-flight Wi-Fi into their perks packages.

The U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature card gives 12 annual in-flight Wi-Fi passes for Gogo ($49 annual fee, waived first year). The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offers 10 free Gogo passes a year ($450 annual fee).

See related: Premium card perk: Access to airport lounges 

Other cards, like the Expedia + Voyager Card from Citi, may not offer free passes for a specific Wi-Fi service, but they allow you to apply your annual travel credit to in-flight Wi-Fi.

And, if you have T-Mobile, you're in luck when it comes to communicating while up in the air. Customers get free texting through sites such as WhatsApp and one free hour of Wi-Fi service on every flight through Gogo.

Wi-Fi on the road

For Wi-Fi on the ground, Boingo is one of the big players. It has Wi-Fi zones at airports and general public spaces around the world, with more than a million international hot spots. For domestic plans, it will cost you about $10 a month for unlimited access and $40 a month for global, unlimited access.

Before you register for one of their plans, however, look in your wallet as you may have a card that already gives you free access.

The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with unlimited Boingo access on up to four devices, as does the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express. It's not automatic, though, so you'll want to register through your card's online portal and the Boingo website before traveling, so you have it ready to go when you need it.

Hotels are also giving free or faster Wi-Fi to customers who carry co-branded cards or belong to their loyalty clubs. The Hilton Honors Card® from American Express includes free Wi-Fi at all its properties (all Hilton Honors members get complimentary Wi-Fi on properties), as does the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase

The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card comes with immediate silver status for cardholders, which includes free Wi-Fi (and free premium Wi-Fi starting in August) for both Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest properties. Starwood also has free Wi-Fi for SPG Gold members, which is complimentary through the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express.

Additionally, you can become an SPG Gold member through the Platinum Card from American Express.

See related: 3 ways to get in-flight Wi-Fi for free 

Even if you don't use a co-branded hotel card, some chains will give you free Wi-Fi just for becoming a member of their hotel loyalty program and booking your room through their site instead of a third-party site.

When traveling for business, it's worth knowing which card will make it a little easier to get your work done without having to shell out a lot of money to stay connected.

See related: How to earn more points booking business travel, Compare business credit cards

The bottom line

Whether you strategically purchase flights, choose Wi-Fi options in advance or check to see what your credit card offers, there are many ways you can utilize in-flight Wi-Fi to get more work done (or binge Netflix between emails) during your next business trip.


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Updated: 10-22-2018