How to Use Wireless Internet on an Airplane

By David Weedmark

Many airlines today offer Wi-Fi service during flights so you can check your email, browse the Internet and chat with friends online. The service works on any Wi-Fi device, including laptops, tablets and smartphones, and works even while your device is in airplane mode. While some flights offer free access, most charge a nominal fee for the service, which you can purchase online before the flight or while you're on the plane.

Wi-Fi Availability

Wi-fi availability varies with every airline and may not be available on all flights. On Delta flights, for example, look for a "Wi-Fi Onboard" icon above the seats. If you're on a Southwest flight, look for "Southwest Airlines Hotspot" stickers in the plane. Flight attendants usually inform passengers if Wi-Fi is available before takeoff. Many airlines also tell you when you purchase a ticket or if you look up your flight number on its website. If in doubt, open a Web browser window or go to the network settings on your Wi-Fi-enabled device and look for an available network, usually with the airline name. Wi-Fi signals don't travel much beyond 100 feet, so once you're in the air, the only available network should be from the plane.

Logging In

After turning on your device's Wi-Fi and connecting to an in-flight network, wait for a welcome screen to appear on your Web browser, which usually includes login information, payment options and general terms and conditions you have to accept before you can use the service. If it doesn't appear right away, wait a few seconds for the welcome screen to load. You won't be able to access your email or connect to the Internet until you log in, even if the service is free.

Plans and Packages

Depending on the airline, you may be given access to free Wi-Fi during the entire flight or free access for a limited time, such as a half hour. Some airlines don't offer free Wi-Fi, so you have to purchase access, usually by entering your credit card information. In some cases, you can purchase your plan before you leave home. Delta, for example, offers 24-hour, monthly or annual plans for its in-flight Wi-Fi, which you can purchase from its website.

Using In-Flight Wi-Fi

While in-flight Internet access is convenient for browsing most Web pages or checking your email, it usually does have limitations. The plane's Internet access comes from satellites, so weather can disrupt the service. When flying in any country's airspace, access to the Internet may be disabled or restricted, depending on that country's regulations. As with any Wi-Fi network, when there are a lot of people trying to access it at the same time, bandwidth may be severely limited. Watching high definition videos or downloading music using a flight's shared service seldom works well, and trying to do so on a shared network is considered bad etiquette.