Staying Connected at 36,000 Feet

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In-flight connectivity is rapidly changing. Here’s what you need to know to stay connected on your next flight.

Taking a nap or reading a paperback book on a plane seems to be a thing of the past. These days, in-flight connectivity is king.

“The airline industry, not one to ignore consumers — at least not when the airlines stand to make a buck — are hopping on the onboard-connectivity movement as quickly as they can,” says popular consumer site Airfarewatchdog.

If onboard-connectivity is important to you, Airfarewatchdog said you should know the following before scheduling your next flight:

  • Movies on-demand. In-flight entertainment has come a long way in recent years. While some older planes still use screens that drop down from the cabin ceiling and only show one movie at a time, most new planes have seatback screens and some offer handheld tablets, all of which typically offer on-demand movies — for a fee, of course. Allegiant, Porter and Spirit do not offer in-flight entertainment.
  • Live television. Some airlines – like Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and Virgin America – offer live satellite TV reception. This usually costs about $8 to $10 for a full flight or $5 or $6 for a few hours, Airfarewatchdog said.
  • Ground-based Internet. Gogo – available on more than 2,000 planes – costs about $5 per hour, but it’s limited to flights above land, as it operates similar to a cellphone, bouncing from tower to tower. Gogo has bandwidth limitations, so it can be slow when lots of people are connected. It also doesn’t work until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. AT&T is set to launch a service in 2015 providing 4G mobile in-flight connectivity. It will be ground-based but promises high-bandwidth capability.
  • Satellite. Unlike Gogo, satellite-based Internet is available over water, provides better bandwidth and is available the entire flight. But it does have a slight delay. It costs about $5 per hour or $20 per day.
  • Wi-Fi availability. It can be frustrating to try and figure out if your flight has Wi-Fi. In fact, a few carriers even say, “See if the plane has Wi-Fi when you board.” Airfarewatchdog recommends using Routehappy, TripAdvisor Flights or Kayak, which typically show Wi-Fi availability for airlines on their search-results page.

Check out Airfarewatchdog for more detailed information on staying connected in the air on specific airlines.

How important is it to you to be connected when flying? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

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