Mile-High Wi-Fi Showdown: Which Airline's the Fastest?

Many airlines offer in-flight wi-fi and though you might not choose flights based on download speeds, it helps to know what to expect from each carrier. With your help, we conducted our first Mile-High Wi-Fi Test. Delta Airlines won.

The Idea

We've tested 3G data speeds in the past, so as in-flight wi-fi became more widely offered we decided that its performance needed to be rated as well.

Our staff can only rack up so many frequent flier miles before we get a stern talking to from our fearless leader, so we thought of asking Gizmodo readers for help. Over the holidays, many people joined Gizmodo's Mile-High Club, and the results came pouring in. (Of course it didn't hurt that we shared some coupon codes for free in-flight wi-fi.)

The Methodology

We asked readers to use Speedtest.net when they traveled—checking upload and download bandwidth along with ping latency, reporting the numbers back to us along with a goofy self-portrait, a la Brian Lam. We logged the speed test results along with the airline and the flight route. Our first round of testing accounts for December 2009 and January 2010.

Mile-High Wi-Fi Showdown: Which Airline's the Fastest?

The Results

Don, our resident number cruncher, processed all the data from the first round of testing. We did throw out a few data points which were deemed incomplete or inaccurate, and had to exclude one airline—United—for the time being because we did not have enough data for a meaningful average. All of these numbers are preliminary, but we were surprised that one airline in particular was able to rise up past the others. Here's how our tally looks right now:

American Airlines:
Download: .88 Mbps
Upload: .23 Mbps
Ping: 231.87 ms

Virgin America:
Download: .57 Mbps
Upload: .25 Mbps
Ping: 276.44 ms

Delta:
Download: .93 Mbps
Upload: .29 Mbps
Ping: 177.91 ms

AirTran:
Download: .86 Mbps
Upload: .30 Mbps
Ping: 192.24 ms

If you prefer graphs, today is your lucky day:

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Now, based on these averages, things boil down to this:
Fastest Download: Delta (.93 Mbps)
Fastest Upload: AirTran (.3 Mbps) *
Lowest Latency: Delta (177.91ms)
*Note that Delta's average was very close, at .29 Mbps

So, overall Delta Airlines handily outperformed the rest, but again, this is just round 1. Besides, it seems worth noting that despite differences in broadband speeds, all four of those airlines use GoGo in-flight Internet to provide the wi-fi service.

This Is Just the Beginning

We call this the first round because we're far from done. We want to keep collecting data on in-flight wi-fi and keep getting better and better results. The more data points we have, the better reporting we can deliver on the state of in-air wi-fi.

To help us in this effort, you can simply head to SpeedTest.net the next time you fly and run the test. Send an email to me or to Gizmodo tips with "Mile-High Wi-Fi" in the subject line. Here's what to include:
• Speedtest.net results, including download and upload speed in Mbps, and ping latency in ms
• Name of Airline
• Departing and destination airports, and type of plane
• A (totally optional) goofy picture of yourself

Not only does additional data help us make more accurate subsequent reports, it'll help you because airlines will see clearly how the competition is doing. And if there are variables we don't see yet, such as variations in performance based on route or plane type, we'll be able to get a better sense of that as well, as we get more data points from you...

The Esteemed Members of Gizmodo's Mile-High Club

We encourage you to continue taking 2 minutes to check bandwidth, and fire us an email, whenever you connect up in the air. In the meantime, we want to thank each of the boys and gals who participated in this first round of Mile High Wi-Fi testing, the charter members of the Giz Mile-High Club. Here are some of the prettiest from the charter membership rolls:

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Original Delta Airlines photo used under CC license from The Rocketeer/Flickr