US airline Delta boasts the world's largest fleet of Web-enabled aircraft, with over 900 of the airline's jets kitted out with Gogo wireless inflight Internet.
Passengers can catch up on work, their emails or can even do the obligatory social media check-in from the skies via 'Delta Connect', which we put to the test on a recent journey from Los Angeles to New York.
Delta Connect: accessing the Internet
To get started, connect to the 'gogoinflight' wireless network and then open your web browser.
You'll then be given a choice of plans ranging from a quick 30-minute surf through to an all-day pass:
But it pays to look at all of the plans before diving in... if you're on a non-stop flight such as from Los Angeles to New York, a 'Gogo flight pass' is enough to cover your full journey at US$29.95, rather than the $34.95 'all-day pass' featured on the welcome screen.
Even with unlimited data, that's still a little on the expensive side for a one-way flight. To compare, you'd pay only US$22 from Sydney to London via Abu Dhabi using Etihad's satellite-fed Wi-Fi.
Nonetheless, prices on Delta differ between laptops and smartphones, with that quick iMessage, email or Facebook check-in costing around 40% less via your pocket gadget:
Laptop plans can be shared on more than one device – including your phone – but you can't connect both at once without buying a second plan.
You also can't do the sneaky thing of buying a cheaper smartphone plan and then using it on your laptop, but if you're a frequent Delta passenger, unlimited monthly and annual plans are available.
You may have also spotted a 'Gogo Unlimited' pass – the company provides the Wi-Fi on a number of airlines beyond Delta including American Airlines, United, US Airways and Virgin America – allowing you to use that single plan whenever you're flying on a Gogo-equipped aircraft, regardless of the airline.
Whichever you choose, you'll be prompted to register with Gogo or to login if you've used the service before.
Then enter your credit card details, where Aussie Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club (via Discover) are accepted:
... it takes a moment to verify your card details...
... but you'll be connected in no time:
If you've purchased a short-time plan such as a 30-minute pass, there's unfortunately no timer to show how long you've been connected or how much time you have before you're given the boot.
We'd suggest using your computer's built-in network timer to keep tabs on your session, although remember that it starts counting from the moment you connect to the wireless router, rather than from when your Internet session began.
You may have also spotted the 'promo code' box above – Delta sells discounted 24-hour passes online, so if you jump on and buy a code before leaving home, or even in the lounge at the airport, you'll pay US$16 instead of $34.95:
Gogo's inflight Internet coverage spans the Continental United States and Alaska, although if you're flying with Delta from Sydney to Los Angeles, or between Hawaii and the mainland on a Wi-Fi equipped aircraft, you'll only get a signal when you're close to arrival.
Delta Connect: surfing the Internet
While handheld electronic devices can be used from gate to gate, the Internet is only switched on when the aircraft is flying above 10,000 feet.
Once cruising, we experienced download speeds ranging from 0.33Mbps to 10.41Mbps with latencies of 203ms through to 465ms – as you'd expect from a service that has to beam data from the ground to 10km up in the air – with no connection dropouts during the flight.
But whether the actual download speed was on the lower or higher side, we still found the service usable and had no trouble performing basic tasks such as syncing emails and browsing the Web.
To keep things speedy when the network is busy or otherwise slow, Gogo compresses most of the images that you see on the Web so that the actual file size of each one is smaller – this making pages load faster.
It's not overly noticeable on most websites, but if you're dealing with hi-res images or screenshots for a client presentation, we'd suggest downloading these in the lounge before your flight as there's no way to switch this feature off.
You can side-step it by connecting to a corporate VPN, although if you're experiencing slow download speeds and don't need the security, we'd suggest browsing the more 'traditional' way to take advantage of the smaller images and faster page loads.
Chris Chamberlin was travelling as a guest of Delta Air Lines.
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