In-Flight WiFi: Air Travelers Would Trade Comfort For Connectivity

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In-Flight WiFiWhat would airline passengers be willing to give up in order to connect to WiFi when they fly? Plenty, according to a new survey conducted by Honeywell’s Aerospace division.

The company asked 3,000 air travelers — mostly from the U.S. but also from Britain and Singapore — how important it was to have a fast, reliable in-flight WiFi connection. Their responses reveal just how concerned travelers are with staying connected in the air: 80% said WiFi that’s as good as what they have at home or at the office should always be available during a flight. They’re simply not comfortable without it.

What Would You Give Up to Have WiFi When You Fly?

But, in an era of vanishing airline amenities, the biggest surprise came when air travelers were asked what they would trade for a good WiFi connection. About 90% said they would be willing to give up one of the precious few conveniences they still have in exchange for WiFi in the sky. Here are some of them:

  • 60% would give up the ability to choose where they sit for WiFi.
  • 60% of passengers would rather have WiFi than a reclining seat.
  • 25% would surrender six inches of leg room for WiFi.
  • 13% of Americans, 17% of Britons, and 22% of Singaporeans would give up an in-flight bathroom for a reliable WiFi connection.

What Passengers Do On In-Flight WiFi

How do air travelers use in-flight WiFi connections? Not surprisingly, between a quarter and a third of those surveyed use it for work — to stay productive when they’re in the air. But the majority use WiFi, not because they have to, but because they want to: For sending and receiving email, logging into social networks, or streaming movies or TV shows.

Comments from the survey respondents reveal that they also use in-flight WiFi to perform everyday tasks such taking care of important last-minute banking and making medical appointments. One survey respondent even used wireless connectivity to get permanently disconnected by filing for divorce during a flight.

What Our Readers Think About In-Flight WiFi

We asked folks who follow Private WiFi on Facebook to share their thoughts about airplane WiFi. Most who responded are unwilling to give up airline creature comforts for an in-flight WiFi connection:

“I can easily live without it. I enjoy the chance to switch off from the online world … would vote for extra legroom any day!”

But for others, opting for physical space over cyberspace is clearly an agonizing decision:

“I don’t want to give up those things … But please, please, please give me WiFi, especially on those long trips, so I can work and also pass the time. Yessssss, pleazzzzzze …”

We also asked our readers whether they think in-flight WiFi is secure. It’s telling and typical that only one expressed concern about wireless security on airplanes:

“NO. I have scanned in-flight wifi and the results of open wifi and Bluetooth was scary to say the least.”

Security Should Trump Convenience with In-Flight WiFi

What this person means is there is no wireless security when you’re using open WiFi connections, even ones in mid-air. Most of the security in airplane WiFi is in the payment system designed to protect your credit card information. Everything else is unencrypted.

That means a hacker sitting across the aisle or on the other side of the plane can sniff your personal information. Even worse, he can set up an Evil Twin, a rogue WiFi network designed to trick you into connecting to it. If you take the bait, all your data will travel through the hacker’s device where he can capture it and exploit it. Check out our post this summer about what you should expect every time you connect to in-flight WiFi.

Air travelers need to remember that fast and reliable in-flight WiFi service can be a major convenience and even a comfort. But without using a personal VPN to encrypt their online communications, it could quickly turn into their worst nightmare.

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.