Internet access on a long haul flight is a luxury and despite some trials by international airlines in the past, only a select few offer on-board WiFi. I was pleasantly surprised that Singapore Airlines recently started offering this service. Here's my verdict on Singapore Airlines' Internet OnAir.
The last time I remember experiencing WiFi on an airplane was a few years back when I flew with United. If memory serves me correctly, it costs just under $20 with no data limit… except it seldom worked during the flight. I may have been able to load a few news articles but that was it. The constant dropouts drove me insane to the point I wanted to ask for a refund.
A few years ago, Australian airline Qantas trialled on-board internet but had cited that demand for the service wasn't high enough and ended up scrapping the idea entirely. I suspect demand wasn't high because of several factors:
- Unstable internet connections
- Slow connection speeds
- High prices
- People weren’t aware the service was available
Qantas announced in February that it will be trialling a superfast in-flight WiFi service on domestic flights towards the end of the year. Nonetheless, I'll be assessing the Singapore Airlines Internet OnAir based on those three factors.
On the ground, we often take stable internet connections for granted. Sure, you may expect the occasional dropout every once in a blue moon (unless you're in an area that's prone to connection issues), but generally speaking, broadband and mobile internet services are pretty consistent.
In-flight WiFi is mainly delivered through satellite and there are more variables that can affect the service. Some satellite internet providers are better than others -- in February, American Airlines sued GoGo Internet in order to get out of its contract with the satellite provider based on performance issues. The airline later dropped the case and has now switched over to ViaSat.
But much to my surprise, Singapore Airlines' Internet OnAir was fairly stable. I don’t think it dropped out once while I was using it, which is amazing given my past experiences.
Speed, on the other hand, was quite slow; comparable to dial-up. But, again, compared to past experiences with on-board internet which made me believe that data was delivered to me by geriatric fairies, I was quite pleased with what I got from Singapore Airlines. I ran a little speed test that showed the line speed was 70kbps and the download speed ended up being around 9KB/s. It's not amazing, but it's not entirely atrocious given that the connection was, as mentioned, rather stable.
With such slow speeds, there are, of course limitations on what you can use the connection for. It's quicker to list what it is good for; basically, it's fine to use for instant messaging in plain text. You can also browse basic websites. That's not to say you can't check your emails or log onto Facebook with the connection, but I'd advise against it. We'll get to why in a moment.
Now we look at pricing. I didn't address costs first because there's no point telling you how much a connection costs if the service doesn't even work properly. So is Singapore Airlines Internet OnAir actually worth paying for? Yes and no.
The connection and speed are good for what it is and the base plan only costs $US6.99, payable by credit card. Trouble is, that only gives you 15MB (for one device) for downloads and uploads. I thought that would be enough to do a few online tasks. Oh, how I've been spoilt by unlimited broadband on the ground.
I let my email inbox update and Facebook notifications come through and within five minutes, I had blasted through 15MB. My advice is to turn off all auto-updates and notifications before you log onto the service. I ended up paying another US$19.99 to get another 50MB to use. There's a plan for 30MB that costs US$12.99.
I rationed my 50MB well, sticking to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, avoiding data heavy animated emojis and sending or receiving images. I checked a few news websites as well, but beware, even that can be a drain on data.
One good thing about the in-flight internet service is you can pause and resume the connection as often as you like. That way, you can ration your data more effectively. From the FAQ page, I was the impression that you can save your leftover data allowance for a return flight with the same airline, but since OnAir resells its satellite service to airlines, the airlines themselves can customise the rules.
In the case of Singapore Airlines, they only allow the purchased data to be used per flight segment, which is a bit of a dick move, in my opinion.
The final word on the Singapore Airlines Internet OnAir is that it delivers in terms of connection stability but its paltry data allowance and glacial speeds may not be worth taking up, especially for those who are keen to do some online work during a long flight. But if you, like me, just want to stay connected with friends and loved ones throughout the flight by way of instant messaging, then it may be worth paying up for the in-flight WiFi.