Etihad Airways is one of several airlines now offering inflight Internet on international flights, and we tested its fetchingly-named Wi-Fly service on a recent journey from Abu Dhabi to Sydney.
While most airlines charge for sky-high surfing according to how much data you use, Etihad's Wi-Fly pricing is geared to how long you're connected for.
There are three very straight-forward options: US$12 for two hours, US$18 for four hours or US$22 for the entire flight.
Given that the trek from Abu Dhabi to Sydney is 14 hours, choosing to pay US$22 to remain connected for the duration of the trip was a no-brainer.
That doesn't mean staying online from go to woah, of course: you can close your laptop or switch off your tablet at any point during the flight, and then just reconnect later on as desired.
Although Etihad doesn't impose a limit on how much data you use, it's good practice to disable any automatic cloud-based backup software before jumping online at 30,000 feet so that all of the connection's bandwidth is available for your web browsing or email.
(And if you're flying with an airline which charges based on data rather than time, your entire session can be over with just a few minutes of accidental cloud backup.)
Wireless hotspots for Etihad's satellite-based Wi-Fly network are dotted throughout its planes.
A modified version of the Etihad home page greets you – note the scrolling information atop the page which shows how much 'connectivity time' you have on the flight and in the satellite's coverage zone.
The Internet service itself is packaged as a T-Mobile wireless hotspot, and to use this you need to create a special T-Mobile hotspot account if you don't already have one.
The same account can be used on future flights with Etihad and other airlines which use T-Mobile, as well as T-Mobile's conventional WiFi hotspots at cafes and the like, so it's a good idea to keep a record of your username and password.
(Also note that the password must include letters, numbers and 'special characters’ – something not made fully clear by the login software when trying to set up your new account.)
Having opted for the 'Flight pass' package at US$22 and supplied my credit card details, I was on the air.
(You'll receive a receipt via email if you need to claim this cost back as a company expense.)
Checking the connection at the Speedtest website revealed a decent 3.3Mbps download speed, although the upload rate of 0.16Mbps and latency of 918ms were as you'd expect from the satellite-based service.
From then on, it was literally business as usual: browsing the web to catch up on news, shooting emails back and forth, a bit of social media and so on.
If you're a 'power user' accustomed to a fast Internet connection at work or home you'll need to modify your web habits and not have more than a few windows open as a time – that's more a function of the high latency than the actual connection speed.
Having purchased a 'flight pass' means you can disconnect from the Wi-Fly network at any time – to enjoy a meal, watch an inflight movie or grab some sleep – and later log back on again, by entering your username and password.
You can also use the same login across several devices, making it easy to swap between a laptop and tablet for example, but only one connection at a time is allowed.
During the entire flight I experienced only one Internet dropout, which happened as we flew into Western Australia, but this lasted for just five minutes before the connection bounced back.
In all, this was the best experience I've enjoyed with inflight Internet to date – a usable speed at a great price which covered the entire flight.
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