Whether it's a simple email, a quick browse of your Facebook feed or even a last-minute hotel booking ahead of your arrival, American Airlines' Gogo inflight Internet is a real godsend for busy business travellers.
Offered on almost all AA flights within North America – that's the United States, Canada and Mexico – and also internationally on selected aircraft via a different system, we put sky-high surfing to the test aboard an Airbus A321 aircraft from Los Angeles to New York and then back again.
American Airlines inflight Internet: what it costs
After passing that always-invisible barrier of 10,000 feet, you'll notice the 'gogoinflight' wireless hotspot spring to life – just connect to it and open your web browser to explore AA's range of plans:
At the lowest end of the scale you're looking at US$33.95 (A$48.56) for unlimited time and data on a single US domestic or North American flight or US$43.95 (A$62.84) for all-day access – useful on multi-flight itineraries – while a month of unlimited browsing on AA costs just US$49.95 (A$71.44).
That's not bad if you'll be jetting about the USA or plan to surf again on your return trip, but note that the pass won't also give you Internet access on AA's Sydney-Los Angeles flights, which use a different satellite-based connection as opposed to Gogo's ground-based tech.
However, the least- and most-expensive plans are tucked away – revealed by clicking 'view all passes' with options from US$5.95 (A$8.51) for a quick 30-minute window right up to a very precise US$658.95 (A$942.50) for unlimited access on any Gogo-equipped plane for the next 12 months.Along with American Airlines that would also get you connected on Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Delta, United and Virgin America at no extra charge, although some airlines like United use different WiFi providers on different aircraft which could later mean paying again for a second plan.
Finally, if you're the organised type and know your American Airlines flight will have Gogo inflight Internet available, you can save more than 50% on the cost of an all-day pass by buying it before departure for just US$16 (A$22.88) via this page on the Gogo website.
American Airlines inflight Internet: getting online
Just click 'buy' on your desired plan and either login to your existing Gogo account or sign-up if you're a first-time user, and enter your credit card details. Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club (via the Discover network) are all accepted for Aussie travellers.
Alternately, if you're smart and have already pre-paid before take-off, click 'have a pass?', login to your existing Gogo account and just hit 'redeem': After a few seconds you'll be connected and ready to roll – it couldn't get any simpler than that. All that's missing is a countdown timer for travellers on the short 30-minute plan but which isn't otherwise needed for those surfing on the unlimited plans.
American Airlines inflight Internet: performance
I never step aboard with high expectations of the inflight Internet, the speed of which always varies wildly depending on how many people are connected, what they're downloading, the strength of the link-up with the satellite or ground tower and sometimes even where you are at that precise moment.
My Los Angeles-New York and New York-Los Angeles flights proved no different with download speeds ranging from just 0.39mbps... ... right up to 13.73mbps, or as fast as what you'd get on the ground with ADSL 2+ or basic NBN fibre: For inflight Internet that's actually quite reasonable and certainly ranks above Speedtest's D- grade above which almost unfairly compares the inflight speed to every other connection in the USA, be it fixed, wireless or inflight.
No connection drop-outs were noticed on either flight, and with a single pass loaded in my Gogo account I was free to switch from laptop to smartphone during the meals and then back again without paying a penny extra – although simultaneous surfing does require a second pass.
Also, just be aware that Gogo compresses image files on the ground before beaming them up to your device.
While this boosts your Internet connection even when speeds are minimal, you might wish to download any important graphics for presentations and the like while you're still in the lounge.
Chris Chamberlin was travelling as a guest of American Airlines but used the inflight Internet at his own expense.
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