Is Wi-Fi on an Airplane Really Good?how to know

When it comes to Wi-Fi on flights, it can sometimes feel like rolling the dice with every flight. Is there Wi-Fi on the plane? If so, will airplane Wi-Fi work or be super slow? Also, is it safe to tell colleagues that you are “online and available” for work during a flight?

While most airlines offer Wi-Fi on most continental routes in the U.S., it can sometimes be a bit spotty (to put it nicely). So why are some in-flight Wi-Fi connections so good, while others are terrible?

Let’s take a look at the different types of airline Wi-Fi, which are the best, and how to figure out what you’ll have on your next flight.

The 3 main types of Wi-Fi on planes

According to Wi-Fi survey site NetSpot, you’ll find three main types of Wi-Fi on airplanes.

Air-to-Ground, or ATG

The first is air-to-ground and includes antennas mounted on the belly of the aircraft. These antennas receive signals from land cell towers.

This type means you shouldn’t give up coverage when you’re traveling in places with good cellular service. But in remote areas or large expanses of water? That’s when you’ll start having problems.


The other two types of Wi-Fi on planes involve satellites, which means the plane receives Wi-Fi signals from the sky.

Ku-band is a satellite service offered on many flights, including those with Gogo Internet. Ka-band is the faster Ku-band iteration and includes the latest satellite receivers.

For example, Viasat, JetBlue’s internet provider, says JetBlue Airways uses Ka-band satellite dishes to power internet and live TV on its A220 aircraft.

Bonus Wi-Fi Type: Starlink

There’s an up-and-coming player in the inflight Wi-Fi arena that can help you dive into some work or maximize your in-flight entertainment. Although not yet widely available, SpaceX’s Starlink program will launch next year on one airline, Hawaiian Airlines.

Starlink aims to provide ultra-fast Wi-Fi for flights. Hawaiian Airlines was the first airline to strike a deal with the internet, which will only get faster as the company continues to launch satellites.

Not all aircraft Wi-Fi is created equal

We’ve discussed the different types of Wi-Fi on airplanes, but not their speeds. This one is important; you don’t want to pay for an in-flight internet package only to find Wi-Fi barely available.

Air-to-ground is the slowest of the three main types of Wi-Fi, allowing you to access things like email and social networking. Ku-band is much faster – but your service speed will depend on the number of aircraft currently using each satellite.

Meanwhile, Ka-band is the fastest of the three most common types, but also has the most limited range.

According to internet speed testing provider Ookla, Starlink saw a 38% increase in internet speeds in the US last year. That bodes well for any airline joining the Starlink bandwagon.

How to find out if your next flight has good Wi-Fi

If you want to know ahead of time if you have good Wi-Fi, here are some tips to help you understand the problem you’re facing.

Is Wi-Fi available, and if so, is it useful to you?

First, make sure the plane you’re flying in even offers Wi-Fi. Reviewing its policy can help determine if it will meet your flying needs.

For example, Southwest Airlines blocks access to certain high-bandwidth applications, websites and video conferencing services, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This means that you may not have a mid-stream video conference call.

Will you be covered?

Check the Wi-Fi coverage map of your airline. A quick online search can give you detailed information about your chosen airline and its Wi-Fi offerings.

For example, United Airlines works with four different Wi-Fi providers: Gogo, Panasonic, Thales and Viasat. It provides a map for each service, letting you know where Wi-Fi is and where problems are. The website also lets you know which aircraft are equipped with which services.

How fast will it be?

Research the types of Wi-Fi offered by airlines to better predict the internet speeds you can expect. As a reminder, the most common types of Wi-Fi are ATG, Ku-band, and Ka-Band (listed from slowest to fastest).

For example, Delta Air Lines offers a simple coverage map that lets travelers know which planes rely on which types of satellites.

This research might sound like a lot of work, but when you’re spending 12 hours in the air and stressing about responding to urgent emails, it might be worth it.

Consider the cost

The good news is that in-flight Wi-Fi is not only getting better, it’s getting cheaper. You can even get it for free. For example, JetBlue offers free “Fly-Fi” on all of its flights, and some airlines offer free Wi-Fi to elite members.

Here are the major U.S. airlines and the cost of messaging and Wi-Fi:

Airline Free Message Flight Wi-Fi Fee American Airlines No. Varies by flight. Alaska Airlines is. $8 for most planes. Delta Air Lines is. Varies by flight, but Delta has been testing free Wi-Fi on U.S. flights. JetBlue Airways is. free. Southwest Airlines is. $8 per day, per device. United Airlines Yes. $8 for United MileagePlus members (free to join), $10 for non-members.

Many airlines offer free messaging (without paying for in-flight Wi-Fi) if you use messaging apps like iMessage or WhatsApp and free movies, TV shows and music. However, with onboard Wi-Fi, you can access more websites than passengers offer for free.

If you want to use Wi-Fi on your flight

Many airlines offer Wi-Fi on flights, but not all services are created equal. We’ve seen faster speeds thanks to advances in technology – but many planes still rely on outdated equipment, so you’ll have to wait a while for your Facebook feed to load.

If you’re wondering if the Wi-Fi for your upcoming trip will meet your needs, you can check your airline’s coverage map. Otherwise, cross your fingers, spend a few bucks on an internet package and hope for the best.

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Carissa Rawson writes for NerdWallet. Email:

Article Is Wi-Fi on an Airplane Really Good? How to Know originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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