With China Airlines now using Airbus A350s on all flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland, London and more, Aussie travellers can remain connected above the clouds thanks to the aircraft's inflight Internet service, which is currently free for business class and premium economy passengers on at least one flight during their journey.
With a range of paid plans available too, Australian Business Traveller put the inflight WiFi service to the test on a recent trip to London to bring you this review.
China Airlines' Airbus A350 inflight Internet: plans
China Airlines offers a choice between three paid inflight WiFi plans, which are pleasingly based on the amount of time you spend online rather than how much data you transmit, as all plans have no download limits.
- 1 hour plan: US$11.95 (A$15.90) if paid on board or TWD$350 (A$15.60) if pre-paid.
- 3 hour plan: US$16.95 (A$22.55) on board or TWD$500 (A$22.20) when pre-paid.
- 24 hour plan: US$21.95 (A$29.20) when paid on board or TWD$650 (A$28.90) for those who pre-pay.
An advantage of the 24 hour plan is that you can access the Internet across multiple flights – so those flying from Australia to Taipei could connect to this plan on their flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, and if travelling onwards aboard a WiFi-equipped flight, such as to London, could continue to surf using the same plan.
While there's a slight price difference for those who pre-purchase a plan via the China Airlines website rather than paying once on board, the savings are so small that you'd be better off waiting until you're on the plane to decide whether you need to connect – and indeed, whether the connection is working properly – before purchasing access.
The ability to pre-purchase vouchers is still handy for business travellers, of course, particularly those with employers who prefer to pre-pay for that inflight access when the ticket is booked, to avoid an expense claim down the track.
Pre-purchased vouchers are non-refundable, but have a long validity: until January 9 2020 for the shorter-timed plans or until October 19 2019 for the 24-hour pack, so if a traveller doesn't use their plan for any reason, the access code could be utilised on a future China Airlines trip.
As a special promotion running until June 30 2018, passengers flying with China Airlines in business class and premium economy on selected routes – including flights from Australia and New Zealand to Taipei, and flights from Taipei to London, among others – can request one complimentary 24-hour voucher via the China Airlines website.
You won't get one voucher per flight: just one per booking, but it's enough to cover you in one direction, at least.
China Airlines' Airbus A350 inflight Internet: getting online
We know your device will already be in flight mode, so once the aircraft reaches 10,000ft, keep your eyes peeled for the "Wi-Fi Onboard" hotspot and join the network.
Your web browser should then open on this screen:
To get online, you can either click the recognisable WiFi icon at the top of the page, or tap on the more obvious "click here" text in the centre, both of which will take you to a standard CAPTCHA page...
... before continuing onward to choose your plan:
If you haven't pre-purchased access or don't have a complimentary voucher, click "choose pass" under the most appropriate plan, and then, enter your email address.
That's where your receipt will be sent at the end of the payment process, and speaking of payments, you can use PayPal or a major credit card, with the portal accepting all Australian Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club cards, plus Discover, JCB and China UnionPay cards for other international travellers.
However, if you already have a voucher to use – either one you've pre-purchased or the freebie for business class and premium economy flyers – instead of clicking on a plan at the beginning of the process, venture over to the "access code" tab...
... and enter your voucher code there:
Redeeming a voucher is quick and easy, with no need to create an account, and before long, you'll be online and ready to surf:
A great feature of all China Airlines plans and voucher deals is that you can move the connection from one device to another at no extra cost, such as from your tablet or laptop to your smartphone.
Getting online via your mobile works in much the same way. Connect to the network and click that same WiFi button...
... complete another CAPTCHA check, and then choose "login" if you bought a plan earlier and registered your email address, or just go straight to "redeem a voucher" if you have an access code:
Even if you've already used that voucher on another device during the flight, as long as the plan attached to the voucher code is still valid, you'll be connected right where you left off:
China Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: surfing speeds and reliability
If I had to describe the overall connection speeds of China Airlines' inflight Internet in one word, it'd be "unremarkable".
Across a number of speed tests I ran, downloads typically ranged from a meagre 0.02Mbps to 0.69Mbps, with one burst to 2.51Mbps. Uploads were a little more pleasing, sitting around 1.2-1.6Mbps for the most part, except for one test which recorded 0.08Mbps:
So what does that mean for actual web browsing? Well, when trying to log into a Gmail account, it took 8.5 minutes just for the progress bar to get from here...
... to here:
A futher seven minutes later, Gmail worked out that I was on a particularly slow connection, and so the option to access the account via basic HTML was made available, which made it possible for me to access my emails and send messages in plain text: handy given I was flying during business hours on a Friday, and could send a few important messages before people logged off for the weekend back home.
I also found the connection to be working rather sporadically: sometimes, there would be a quick boost in speeds, before stalling again until the next batch of data could be transmitted:
When trying to browse on my mobile instead of my tablet, I found that the hotspot didn't automatically point me to the WiFi portal page, even when trying to browse to random websites in my browser to trigger that. Instead, I had to manually type "cal-wifi.com" into my browser to access the hotspot: an address I only knew from using the service earlier on my laptop.
Overall though, the connection remained 'on' throughout most of the flight, except a very short stint where the aircraft was taking almost a polar route via far north Russia, which is a known black spot for satellite coverage – not just for China Airlines, but for travellers globally.
During that window, the WiFi portal's home page displays a red light instead of a green dot, so that you know the problem isn't just you – it's the connection:
At the end of the day and like most inflight WiFi services, expect only the most basic of speeds and forget about tasks like video streaming: but if your goal is just to send a few emails or messages via apps like Apple iMessage, or to check up on Facebook, you'll still be able to get that done aboard China Airlines – provided you're patient.
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of China Airlines.