Inflight Internet access is quickly becoming a staple of modern international business travel with American Airlines the latest carrier in Australian skies to link passengers in the air to the world beneath them.
Australian Business Traveller put AA's inflight WiFi to the text aboard the airline's new Boeing 777 flights between Sydney and Los Angeles, which allow Qantas frequent flyers to surf sky-high while still collecting those all-important status credits and frequent flyer points.
American Airlines inflight Internet: what it costs
If you've used inflight internet on American Airlines domestic flights in the past, it's worth pointing out that the Boeing 777s flying to Australia use a different system altogether, which means pricing and speeds are also different.
Between Sydney and Los Angeles in either direction expect to pay US$12 (A$16.76) for two hours of unlimited data, US$17 (A$23.74) for four hours or US$19 (A$26.53) for the entire flight. Having multiple pricing options here is great for business travellers as the US$19 option suits the Sydney-Los Angeles leg of which a significant portion covers daylight business hours, with shorter and less expensive plans at your disposal for a brief browse on the flight home before or after a long sleep.
However, don't make the mistake of pre-purchasing an 'all-day pass' to the inflight Internet via the American Airlines website: these are for use on AA domestic and North American flights only, not on the longer services to Sydney.
Access to live text-based news, the American Airlines website and various flight and travel information is also provided at no charge to all passengers.
American Airlines inflight Internet: getting online
As is customary of most inflight Internet systems you'll need to pass a CAPTCHA security check before access can be purchased... ... but which is almost redundant: would anybody really fork out for an international airfare just to try and hack the WiFi?
Solve the CAPTCHA and you're through to making an account with AA to get connected or logging into an existing one – and again, even if you've used AA's domestic inflight Internet, you'll need to register for a separate account here as the two systems aren't linked. Inflight roaming options are also available to users of certain mobile networks but we didn't spot an Aussie telco among the list.
Then it's as simple as confirming your plan and paying for it with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club, JCB and Discover credit cards all accepted... ... as is PayPal, in theory. We tried using it but as the aircraft's traffic routes through T-Mobile in Germany, PayPal's software deemed the login attempt suspicious and would only unlock the account by sending an SMS code, which naturally can't be received mid-air.
Our Australian credit card worked as normal via AA's own portal, however, and we were quickly online: While the timer shows an access window of up to 24 hours, this unfortunately doesn't carry over onto any domestic connecting flights with AA – such as Los Angeles to New York – as again, the systems aren't linked, but which is the approach also taken by United.
During the same AA flight, however, you're free to switch your connection between devices: useful at meal times when you'll stow your laptop but might want to continue a text-based conversation or send an email via your smartphone.
iPhone users on the shorter timed plans, just be wary that once you've opened a new Safari tab, your version of the timer 'pauses' and doesn't resume counting again until returning to that first window.
That doesn't give you extra time, though: AA's own systems keep track in the background and while you might return to the timer window and see 32 minutes remaining on the screen, only by manually refreshing the page will you see how much time is really left:
American Airlines inflight Internet: performance
We tested AA's Internet on our Sydney-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-Sydney flights and found its performance reliable on both legs without any interruptions or breaks in the connection.
Speeds were also steady with downloads always hovering around the 5Mbps mark – slightly higher than your average inflight Internet – with uploads reaching 0.1Mbps: For the latter, that's about what you'd expect of any satellite-based system and in everyday terms means that web browsing is more than tolerable, particularly on social media with images relatively fast to appear on your screen.
Where the speeds lag are when sending data back to the Internet, such as when transmitting a photo-based iMessage, uploading a photo to Facebook or sending an email with attachments, which is where patience is a virtue and an ice cream sundae comes in handy.
More AusBT reviews for AA travellers:
- American Airlines Boeing 777 first class: Sydney-Los Angeles
- AA 'Flagship Lounge', Los Angeles T4
- American's A321T first class: Los Angeles-New York JFK
- AA's Airbus A321 Gogo inflight Internet
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge, New York JFK T8
- AA's A321T business class: New York-Los Angeles
- American Airlines Admirals Club lounge, Los Angeles T4
- AA Boeing 777 business class review: Los Angeles-Sydney
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of American Airlines but used the inflight Internet at his own expense.
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