If you’re not specifically traveling “to disconnect”, then the lack of consistent Wi-Fi while on the road can be a huge frustration. As a frequent flier, Hotwire President Henrik Kjellberg knows all too well the feeling of having to prep for a 10am meeting while stuck on a 7am flight. Read on for his best tips on how to stay connected when traveling.
Airports are trending toward increasingly free Wi-Fi with much better bandwidth. And guess what? Lounge access is no longer a requirement for a good connection. In fact, Kjellberg says, “I was just in Orlando and the lounge Wi-Fi was significantly slower than free airport offering.” So if you’re not a frequent flier with a mileage program, don’t fret (and definitely don’t spend the $50 for a day-pass to that airport lounge).
Plus, the sign-in process has gotten a lot easier, at least domestically. “You used to have to give away a lot of personal details, now it is typically a one-click sign in (in San Francisco or Seattle, for example) to get access to great Wi-Fi.”
Now if only those airports with Wi-Fi time-limits would come-around…
If you’re open to paying a fee (usually around $16), Wi-Fi is an option on most domestic carriers—even on some international flights—as US carriers are ahead of the curve when it comes to connectivity in planes.
But, Kjellberg cautions, “connectivity can still be patchy. It usually works OK for email and messaging, but is not great for big downloads.” And you’ll want to be extra careful when using the service. On a recent flight to Miami, Kjellberg lost a lot of work as the Wi-Fi switched off during the landing process. So, he suggests to “save long emails and documents as you go—and for sure save everything 20 minutes before landing.”
As an added bonus, free options are starting to appear. Take Alaska Airlines’ new Free Chat™ program for example. The airline has recently started allowing Wi-Fi use for select messaging apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. While this might not help the avid business traveler much, it can be awesome for leisure travelers who want to stay connected to friends and family while in the air.
Other money-saving tips
Check with your phone carrier before traveling abroad. Kjellberg has noticed that “even when roaming, some data packages can be cheaper than purchased Wi-Fi options.”
Download mail at the airport before you take off. By working offline for most of your flight you’ll be able to skate by with purchasing a limited amount time while in-flight (30-60 mins), saving you money.
Consider tethering your phone while at the airport or train station (this won’t work in the air). This is an option on many modern smart phones and depending on your plan, might even be free. It does drain your phone battery so be sure to plug in to an outlet (and make sure you’re watching how much data you use).