Review: United Airlines' In-Flight WiFi Service

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I'm typing this 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, en route to a media event in San Jose. And it's my first experience of using in-flight wifi. I've connected a couple of different devices on my United Airlines flight. Here's what I found.

Connectivity was available shortly after take off. There were three options; US$5.99 for an hour, US$10.99 for two hours of US$25.99 for the full flight. I took the full flight option, paying for basic access. That's good for web browsing and email, according to the sign-up page. You can pay more for a faster connection that supports streaming video.

Performance was OK for basic use. Using the iOS Speedtest app on an iPad and iPhone had ping times of between 600ms and 1200ms. That's unsurprising given we're in a plane that's moving at close to 900kmh that's connecting to a satellite service. Download speeds were around 3Mbps with uploads running under 1Mbps.

What I found most frustrating was the variability of the performance. There were times when things happened reasonably quickly but other operations took ages. For example, I received a few 1.5MB images over iMessage and they took minutes to arrive - I almost felt I was back in the BBS days downloading an image.

At over $30, the question becomes one of whether a slow question is worth the money. I managed to get some useful work done and manage a bunch of email - something that always bugs me after a long flight.

While performance was frustrating, I managed to get good value for the money I parted with.

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