In-flight Wi-Fi is becoming more and more common on commercial aircrafts flying over the United States, but the service is not yet that common on US flights serving Latin American routes. On most of these flights, you will find Wi-Fi stops working once the carrier crosses over US shorelines.
Almost every US airline serves Latin American routes and almost all of them offer Wi-Fi service inside the United States.
“I mostly travel with United Airlines and Jet Blue, sometimes American and Avianca. All of them but Avianca offer the service,” says Adolfo Bonilla, Costa Rica Delivery Center Director for the outsourcing firm CSS Corp. “In fact, it only works while you are within U.S. airspace. Once the flight has gone a distance off the US coast, the service won’t be available anymore.”
That is mainly because some carriers are still using air-to-ground systems for their in-flight Wi-Fi service. If they want to stay connected beyond the US shorelines, they need to switch to satellite networks.
But some changes are taking place. Delta Airlines, for example, says it will soon start using satellite service and extend the Wi-Fi service to the Caribbean and Latin American routes. “Installation of 2Ku systems on existing aircraft will begin in 2016,” stated the carrier in a press release.
Currently, according to Delta, connectivity ends once the aircraft goes beyond approximately 100 miles outside of the United States. Delta says it will begin installing the satellite-based system on more than 250 of its aircraft that fly long-haul domestic, Latin American and Caribbean routes.
Delta has already installed Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi on more than one-third of its international fleet. In mid-2016, its entire international fleet, including all of its Boeing 777, 767, 747, Airbus A330 and transoceanic Boeing 757 aircraft operating on long-haul routes will offer Wi-Fi. Some analysts say not all travelers demand Wi-Fi service, although carriers are aware that in-flight Internet service is beneficial for business travelers.
“It is somehow useful, but not critical for most purposes. I will be answering e-mail and working on documents during the flight, and sending them out when Wi-Fi becomes available again once we have landed,” Bonilla added.
Most travelers use Wi-Fi for entertainment, rather than for business purposes. That’s largely due to security reasons. Many others do not even try checking whether the plane offers Wi-Fi service before booking tickets.
“A flight does not offer the required privacy to work or deal with critical matters while on it. I do not ask them about the availability of Wi-Fi; I expect it to be available,” Bonilla said.
Another problem is most connections are slow, and getting access tends to be expensive. “On a scale from 1 to 10, it is a 5. When offered at no cost, it is slow and poor in quality. When offered at a cost it is not always reliable and the frustration is greater. Airlines do not seem to understand the value of it in business terms form a user perspective,” Bonilla added.
But some airlines are saying that the satellites will help them offer high-speed Internet service in the days to come. JetBlue and United Airlines, using Ka-band technology, are talking of increasing Internet speed up to 12 Mbps. But neither has installed Satellite Wi-Fi on all of their aircrafts.
Meanwhile, some Latin American carriers appear to be gearing up to offer the service. Gogo Inc, a leading aero communications service provider in the US, says it will soon bring its in-flight connectivity services to Brazilian airliner GOL. In its statement, Gogo said: “GOL will be the first Brazilian airline to offer broadband Internet access to its passengers.
Gogo claims its next generation satellite technology will deliver peak speeds of more than 70 Mbps to the aircraft, which is more than 20 times the bandwidth of Gogo’s first generation Air to Ground solution in the U.S.