Going Online While On the Go

For some, travel means casting off the shackles of email inboxes and disconnecting from the online world. But, for others, staying connected is a necessity, whether it’s to send in that important document to your boss or just to post a selfie from 20,000 feet. There Are No Wires in the Air Until recently, air travel was one of the last activities that left passengers truly disconnected from the online world. As airlines began to introduce in-flight Wi-Fi, passengers rejoiced. But somehow, slow Wi-Fi seems worse than none at all, and passengers were disappointed by the 3G capabilities of inflight providers, like GoGo. That company says its current technology allows for speeds up to 10 Mbps, but new technology introduced this year and in 2015 will boost speeds to 70 Mbps. Before long, you’ll easily be able to stream a movie of your choice on your iPad instead of suffering through what the airline chooses for you. The Information Superhighway at Sea You’d think cruise ship travelers might not be in a hurry to get anywhere, but apparently that’s not true when it comes to being online. “Our guests are looking for different experiences when they cruise—some are interested in disconnecting, and others are interested in staying in touch with their world back home,” Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Ramon Millan said. The cruise line recently announced new broadband technology that will boost its passengers’ online speeds by a factor of 10. Though Carnival didn’t specify the before and after speeds, they did mention the new system will be capable of streaming video. Even Trains Have Wi-Fi Amtrak is desperately trying to turn its business around, and as part of that transformation, it offers free Wi-Fi to 85 percent of its passengers. The company does admit its network isn’t particularly fast, nor is it available on all routes, but at least it’s not something you feel you are getting overcharged for. Various stations along your route may also offer access, making your wait a little more pleasant. Please Don’t Stream Movies While You Drive We don’t think we should have to tell you not to browse the Internet while you drive, but cars are becoming more connected, and the option can perhaps be safe for passengers, at least. Infotainment systems, like Ford’s Sync, connect to the Internet through the driver’s mobile device and data plan, meaning speeds depend entirely on the user’s network and signal strength. But AT&T and Audi combined to make the 2015 A3 the world’s first car available with a 4G high-speed Internet connection. Should the Cost of Your Ticket Include Wi-Fi? Airlines in particular are notorious for charging fees for things that used to be free, and for inventing new fees. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise at all that many U.S. airlines charge customers a fee for Internet access. Delta, for example, has access plans starting at $1.95, along with 24-hour plans for $16, and even monthly and yearly plans for frequent fliers. After you’ve paid for your ticket, and then seen the price rise with baggage fees, seat upgrades, airport taxes, food costs, and so on, an added fee for Wi-Fi can be maddening. If it’s getting hit with fees after you’ve bought the ticket that annoys you, there seems to be no technical reason why airlines can’t modify the ticket buying process. Just as flyers can choose their seats, airlines may opt to let users select and pay for Wi-Fi at the time of ticket purchase. Forget how and when you pay for access: should you have to pay for it at all? The airlines charging Internet access fees would argue that including Wi-Fi access in the standard ticket price is unfair to fliers who don’t want it, and have no plans to use it. It’s tough to argue that they’re wrong on that point, but airlines do build the price of drinks, headphones, and in-flight entertainment into the cost of the ticket, even though not all passengers want those items either. It’s possible, and maybe even likely, that as in-flight Wi-Fi becomes more common, it will also become something that passengers simply expect to be free. Remember that movies were once a luxury airlines charged for, but are now almost always included with the cost of the ticket. It’s worth noting that fliers using GoGo pay that company directly, and not the airline itself. One competitor to GoGo is ViaSat, whose customers include United Airlines and JetBlue. ViaSat sells its service directly to the airline, which then charges fliers as it sees fit. Although JetBlue charges customers $9 per hour for access, it does offer a slower level of service free of charge. Fliers can choose to vote with their wallets, buying tickets only from airlines like JetBlue that offer at least some form of complimentary Wi-Fi. It’s Always Your Choice Now that you know the Internet access options available to you during your travels, are you more likely to choose one company or mode of transportation over another? And do you view online access as just another way to relax on the road, or something that detracts from the calm? Photo: Zach Ancell/Flickr [zipfinder]

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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