Starlink for airlines inflight WiFi
Most airlines are now working to update their fleet to make onboard wifi part of the standard offering for you and me Image Credit: Twitter | Starlink


  • More airlines offer high-speed web for video calls — with no lag — at 33,000 feet.
  • IATA leading push for ‘common use’ standards for on-board internet service to enhance passenger experience.

“Do they have wifi on planes?”

Short answer: yes.

Though seamless inflight internet is a neat technology, the answer is still not yet a straightforward “yes”. However, most airlines are now working feverishly to update their fleet and make onboard wifi part of the standard offering for you and me.

If your flight is delayed, there is still no assurance that you will be able to finish your job, access the web, or read the news. But this won't hold true indefinitely.


Passenger experience

Enter IATA, the industry group known as the International Air Travel Association, which has stressed on the importance of a positive passenger experience.

This includes pushing for high-quality inflight connectivity that supports various digital services, such as streaming, real-time information, and e-commerce.

Starlink wifi plane
Most airlines are now working feverishly to update their fleet and make onboard wifi part of the standard to passengers.

IATA is leading the development of global "Common Use” standards and ensure interoperability among all stakeholders involved.

These standards allow airlines, airports, and ground handling agents to support the optimisation of passenger processes using shared technologies typically found at airports, but also at seaports, hotels, and train stations.

Inflight WiFi
NEXT TIME YOU FLY: Wifi availability onboard depends on the airline you're flying with, the length and route of the journey, and the type of aircraft you're on. So next time you fly, however, it is best to be realistic with your expectations about inflight wifi, and consider these factors. Image Credit: Jason Toevs | Pexels

How wifi works on aircraft

In general, there are two ways: Air-to-ground, and satellite wifi. These are two modes currentl employed, depending on the airline and aircraft in question.

Cell towers are used in the air-to-ground route — just as the towers that connect your phone's internet when you're on the ground. These towers give wifi connectivity to planes flying above by sending signals into the sky.

The other approach uses satellites. When a satellite transmits a signal, an antenna placed on top of the plane picks it up for the passengers. This tech is still quite new, but a number of airlines are already utilising it.

Wifi inflight Gogo
BIG MARKET: Satellite service providers use advanced technology, servers and network management tools to provide seamless in-flight connectivity solution to planes. One of the challenges is to optimise networks with low-earth orbit providers. Image Credit: Gogo

How can I use the in-flight wifi?

Normally, your airline will give you all the details you require regarding this service. Upon booking your ticket, they may inform you, or after you take your seat in the plane.

To access the service and verify your identity, you might need to input your ticket number or other information. You could also need to pay for it.

Inflight Wifi
In most cases, connecting to in-flight wifi is the same as connecting to any other type of public wifi service; all you have to do is turn on your device's wifi, select the appropriate hotspot, and click on it to connect.

In most cases, connecting to in-flight Wi-Fi is the same as connecting to any other type of public Wi-Fi service; all you have to do is turn on your device's Wi-Fi, select the appropriate hotspot, and click on it to connect.

Can I use wifi on “Airplane Mode"?

No. Activate “Airplane Mode” on your phone or tablet cuts off all data connections. Until you deactivate this mode, internet access won’t be possible.

Can I use wifi on a plane for streaming Apps?

It depends. Some in-flight wifi services are good enough to stream videos and use various online services, but many of them are quite slow and weak, at the moment.

Streaming, video calls, gaming at any altitude

In the not-too-distant future, with tech improvements, high speed in-flight wifi for streaming, video calls, gaming and more at any altitude will be a reality. There’s do doubt in-flight internet will transform aviation, enhance the overall passenger experience and enable new possibilities (including onboard e-commerce) for airlines and travellers alike.

High-speed, inflight broadband
Emirates recently announced its plans to introduce new high-speed, inflight broadband on its 50 upcoming Airbus A350 aircraft, set to enter service in 2024.

Powered by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation, this agreement will significantly enhance the passenger experience with improved connectivity and wider global coverage, including flights over the Arctic.

The A350s will be the first Emirates aircraft to use Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) satellite network, ensuring uninterrupted global connectivity, even in remote destinations like the North Pole.

Top providers

The inflight internet landscape is evolving fast. Several companies offer onboard internet services to airlines. Some of the top inflight internet service providers include:

#1. Gogo | Intelsat: Gogo is a prominent provider of inflight internet solutions, offering both air-to-ground (ATG) and satellite-based connectivity. 

#2. Viasat: Viasat offers high-speed satellite-based internet services for airlines, providing coverage across North America, Europe, and other regions. 

#3. Panasonic Avionics: Panasonic Avionics is a leading provider of inflight entertainment and communication systems. 

#4. Inmarsat: Inmarsat is a global satellite communications company that provides inflight connectivity services through their "GX Aviation" solution.

#5. Thales Group: Thales Group provides various aerospace solutions, including inflight entertainment and connectivity systems. 

#6. Global Eagle: Global Eagle is a provider of inflight entertainment and connectivity solutions, offering a range of services including internet access, live television, and media content. 

#7. Starlink: Space X promises to deliver up to 350 Mbps to each plane, with “latency” as low as 20 milliseconds (ms) thus allowing passengers can engage in video calls, online gaming, VPN and other such activities. It’s the world's largest satellite constellation with coverage over land, the oceans and polar regions.