Back in 2009, I was on a plane that offered free use of the Gogo Inflight Internet service so I tried it out and wrote about my experiences, which were positive. Gogo provides Wi-Fi on many different airlines including Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, AmericanAirlines, Delta, Frontier, United, US Airways and Virgin America — currently over 1,000 different airplanes. Since my original post in 2009, many people have told me, wrote to me, or posted a comment on that original post saying that they have had disappointing experiences with Gogo, so I have been curious to try it again.
Over the last few weeks, I've been on twelve different Delta flights (three trips with connections on both sides of the trip). Knowing that I would have several trips in June, I paid for 30 days of service on June 1 to give Gogo a more comprehensive test. Once again, my experience was for the most part quite positive.
Unlike the last time that I tried the service, there is now a Gogo app that works on the iPhone or iPad to help you sign on to the service. You don't need the app (you can sign up using a web browser) but the app saves you the trouble of typing in your username and password every time you use the service.
Signing in to Gogo Inlight Internet
The procedure for using Gogo is as follows:
1. Wait for the flight attendant to announce that you have reached 10,000 feet and you are allowed to use electronic devices. On your iPhone or iPad go to Settings --> Wi-Fi and select the Gogo service.
2. Wait a few seconds for the Wi-Fi icon to appear at the top of the screen.
3. Launch the Gogo app. You will see one of the following screens. If you didn't wait long enough, you will be told that the service is unavailable (the first picture below). But if all goes well you'll see something like the second picture below.
4. If you need to sign up for the service, you will be given several different priced options. The current prices for the iPhone or iPad are as follows. (Service for a computer is slightly more expensive.)
- $4.95 for a flight that is up to 90 minutes (650 miles)
- $7.95 for a flight that is over 90 minutes (over 650 miles)
- $19.99 for 30 days of service on a single airline
There are several other packages with different prices. For example, if you pre-purchase Gogo before you are on your flight, you can pay $34.95 for a month of service on any plane from any airline. Better yet, if you use this link on the Delta website you can currently get that service for only $24.95. You can also pre-purchase a 24 hour pass on the Gogo website for $12.95, and Delta is currently selling the 24 hour pass at a discounted price of $11.00.
5. If you already have an account with a username/password that is saved in the Gogo app, then after you tap the sign in button, you see the following screen at which you need to type the characters shown on the screen. I presume that thi step is designed to make it harder for someone to hack into the service, but it sure is annoying.
6. Finally, you wait for the service to start, which usually takes about 5 seconds or so. The app tells you when the service is ready.
All of the above screenshots are from an iPhone, but if you are using the app on an iPad, the steps are the same. The Gogo app only works in portrait mode on the iPad (I can't imagine a reason for that limitation), but the process works the same, and you see screens like this:
Speed of Gogo Inflight Internet
Once you are connected, you can exit the Gogo app and use your iPhone or iPad like normal. You can only use your account on one device at a time, but you can easily go back and forth — you just log in from the new device and the account becomes inactive on the other device.
The question most people ask me is: how fast is the service? My qualitative answer is: fast enough for e-mail, simple web browsing, Twitter, Facebook, etc. To give you a quantitative answer, I used the Speedtest.net app to test Internet speeds on each flight. The results from my 12 flights ranged from 0.31 Mbps to 0.81 for download speeds and from 0.18 to 0.88 Mpbs for upload speeds. The speed varies throughout each flight (and I'm sure was dependent on who else was using the service) but most of the time the speeds were around .70 Mbps download, with the following picture showing a typical result:
When I use my iPhone on the Wi-Fi at my home, I can easily get 10 Mpbs or more for download speeds. Data speed using AT&T 3G on my iPhone varies greatly; it can sometimes be 1 Mbps download or slower, other times it is 3 Mbps or much higher. So in other words, Gogo is likely not as fast as the Wi-Fi you use at home or your office, but it does feel similar to what you see over 3G on those occasions when 3G is working but is on the slow side. You need to wait for screens to load, but they do load before too long.
I did have one occasion on a flight from Atlanta to New Orleans when the Gogo service didn't work at all. Other people on the plane noticed the same thing, so I asked the flight attendant if there was a way to reset the system, and she said no. Nevertheless, about halfway through the flight I tried it again, and it was working. This only happened to me once over those twelve flights and at the time I didn't have a pressing need to use the Internet so it was not a big deal, but I'm sure that if I had pre-purchased service for that one particular flight, I would not have been pleased.
Usefulness of Gogo Inflight Internet
Is it worth it? For me, it was, mostly because of emails. First, Gogo can create billable hours. For those of you who are attorneys who bill by the hour, I presume that your billing rate is much higher than the cost of Gogo. Of course, there are other ways to bill, such as bringing documents that you can read, but I have many days that a big part of my billable hours involves working through e-mails, and it is nice to be able to do that on the plane. Second, Gogo avoids e-mail pile up. I hate getting off of a flight only to see that I have dozens of e-mails to work my way through. By keeping up with the e-mail during the flight, I avoid seeing those large double digit numbers in the red circle above my Mail icon when I turn on my iPhone after the plane has landed. Third, Gogo helps you to stay in touch. It is often helpful to be able to immediately respond to e-mails in real-time, especially when they are time-sensitive questions from clients. Fourth, even if you are not working, it is enjoyable to have Internet access if (like me) you enjoy reading Twitter or using an RSS reader to read the latest news from the websites of your choice.
I have also used Gogo to use the LogMeIn app on my iPad to access my office when I realized that I left a file on the desktop of my office computer that I had intended to read on the plane. The ability to access that file in my office from 30,000 feet was not just useful — it made me feel like I was living in the future. (Hey, aren't we all supposed to have jetpacks by now?)
I don't plan to use Gogo every time I travel in the future. $5 for a single flight that only lasts about 90 minutes will often seem like too much — although of course at an airport you can spend that much on a coffee or just a part of your lunch, so in that context perhaps it feels less expensive. On the other hand, if I have several trips in a month, $20 is much easier to justify.
Note that even if you don't pay for Gogo, you can use Gogo for free to access an airline website or use an airline app on your iPhone or iPad. Thus, during your flight you can look up your gate of arrival, the gate of your next flight, find out whether flights are delayed, etc. And every once in a while you will see other specials. This past March, I saw that you could access Twitter for free using Gogo. This month, on Delta flights, you can use Gogo for free to access the Zappos.com website — perfect for when you have an emergency need for shoes at 30,000 feet. You can read the Gogo blog to keep up with the latest deals and learn other travel-related tips.
Gogo Inflight Internet is relatively slow compared to what you normally see on your iPhone or iPad, but for most tasks it is fast enough to get the job done, at a price that is somewhat high but often something that you can justify. My tests over the last few weeks confirm that — just as was the case when I first tried this service back in 2009 — Gogo can be a valuable service for those looking to get work done with an iPhone or iPad on a plane.