Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, I had an opportunity to test out WiFi service from Gogo Inflight Internet. The service launched on Delta Airlines in 2009 and is now also available on Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska, American, United, US Airways and Virgin America.
Pricing varies (nothing is free on airlines these days) based on the device you use and the length of the flight. For instance, a one day pass to connect a laptop on a flight over 3 hours costs $12.95. Under 1.5 hours, it's $4.95. You can also buy buy a 30 day pass for $39.95 or a monthly subscription if you're a road warrior. For a small discount, sign up at the Gogo website , otherwise you can set up an account after takeoff.
Gogo is vague about the speed of its broadband connection. All it will say is that “You should expect to experience speeds similar to the mobile broadband experience on the ground.” By searching the Web, I learned that the download speed is 3 Mbps, plenty fast for e-mailing and browsing the Web.
When I first logged on, response was very good. As the flight continued across the country, I experienced a noticeable decrease in speed. Why? As more passengers went online, we all shared the connection, slowing things down.
After I finished my work, I wanted to relax with a movie on Netflix. I made my selection, clicked “Play”, connected to the movie server and started watching. About five minutes into the film, the video stream was interrupted and the software began buffering the data, a process that took at least five minutes. The film then resumed playing, only to stop and buffer again. The third time this happened, I surrendered.
On the Gogo website, I found this FAQ: “…the viewing of full length television and movies is not supported. Watching a few short video clips should work most of the time.”
Bottom line: The service works well for low data-intensive tasks like e-mail and Web surfing. Accessing multimedia is iffy, so don't plan on watching much streaming video while airborne. But on a half-full flight with technophobes, who knows? You might have better luck than I did. Have you tried Gogo? If so, share your experience.