Leg room, luggage space, in-flight meals, the actual cost of the ticket—these are all important considerations when booking a flight. But for some of us, perhaps the most crucial consideration of all concerns the on-board wifi options. Are you actually going to be able to get anything done mid-journey, or will you be cut off from the world?
Assuming you don’t want to use the flight as an opportunity to go completely off-grid for an hour or three, airplane wifi (or the lack of it) can make a significant difference to your experience—whether you want to make sure you keep in touch with colleagues on the ground or you just want to be able to while away the time on YouTube.
It’s a situation that’s changing on a regular basis, so here’s the latest from all of the major US airlines. If you find yourself without wifi on your next trip through the skies, remember that there are a variety of offline apps that you can take advantage of, and that you can save downloads in advance in many streaming apps.
At the time we put this article together, on-board wifi isn’t currently available on Allegiant Air, Avelo Airlines, Breeze Airways, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Sun Country Airlines, though some of these companies are planning on introducing some form of wifi in the coming years.
Alaska Airlines describes its in-flight satellite-powered wifi as “streaming fast” (it’s apparently 500 Mbps), and it’s available on 80 percent of the fleet at the time of writing—that includes every Airbus aircraft. Plus, every plane should offer wifi by early 2023. Pricing is pretty straightforward, with a flat rate of $8 to get you connected.
American Airlines says that “select domestic flights” have a wifi option, so it’s really a case of checking your specific route. No speeds are given, but streaming apps are mentioned, so you should be able to stream video. Pricing is varied: It apparently starts at $10 depending on what you need, with $50-per-month subscription plans also available.
Delta Air Lines now has wifi on 54 percent of its mainline aircraft (more than 300 routes), and it’s fast enough for streaming. Access is via either Intelsat or Viasat, with prices starting at $5 for a single trip (monthly subscriptions starting at $50 are available too). Some messaging (via iMessage, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp) is provided for free.
JetBlue has one of the best deals for in-flight wifi, offering “high-speed” (around 20 Mbps) wifi on every flight over the contiguous US, with some coverage in other areas—check the route details if you’re heading outside of the United States. The service is provided free of charge to everyone traveling, and you should be able to stream video at those speeds.
Southwest Airlines lets you use iMessage and WhatsApp for free on its flights, but anything beyond that is going to cost you $8 for the day. You’re still restricted in terms of what you can use the wifi for, though: The service blocks certain “high-bandwidth applications” over in-flight wifi, which includes the likes of Netflix, HBO Max, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams.
Spirit Airlines promises “state-of-the-art” wifi, which apparently maxes out at around the 400 Mbps speed level. Basic browsing costs $3 and up, while wifi you can stream video over will set you back $6 and up, with prices depending on flight duration. At the time of writing, “most” Spirit aircraft have been fitted with the tech, so you still need to check if yours has it.
United Airlines promises wifi on “most” of its flights, with pricing starting at $8 and going up depending on how far you’re traveling and whether or not you’re part of the United Airlines Mileage Plus scheme. Speeds aren’t specified, but United says that streaming video is only possible on “select flights”, so you’ll need to look at your specific route.
We obviously can’t cover every single regional and international airline here, but the website for the company you’re traveling with should have all the details you need to know—just double-check the options for your particular flight. The further you’re going and the more modern the plane, the better your chances of getting in-flight wifi.