JetBlue Starts Rolling Out Inflight Wi-Fi, But Is It Any Good?

(MBQ's Phone Took This)

(MBQ’s Phone Took This)

We’ve known for a while now that JetBlue was working on inflight high-speed Internet access on many of its flights — a basic web browsing service for free and a $9 per hour faster connection for streaming and the like — and yesterday Consumerist tried it out ahead of today’s wider rollout. So maybe you’re wondering, is this Fly-Fi thing any good?

JetBlue is touting itself as the first airline to use “high-speed Ka-band satellite connectivity” for Fly-Fi, which will offer the basic connection for free through June 2014 on certain planes. With all this bragging about how it’s supposed to be eight times faster than older inflight connections, we wanted to check out of that was true.

During a flight yesterday on JetBlue up the eastern seaboard, I worked on posts for Consumerist while in the air to see if the service would be adequate for someone traveling on business.

I started off just using the basic “Simply Surf” service to log on to email and go about using the Internet how I would on any workday. Pages loaded just fine and very quickly in most cases, and I was able to get posts from my brain to the Internet in the normal amount of time it usually takes me.

When I purchased an hour of the Fly-Fi plus option and tried streaming music and watching videos on YouTube, there were no moments of “buffering” or slowness.

I even saw a guy across the aisle from me hosting a live video chat that seemed to go well, which could be good for work conference calls since we can’t use phones on planes for voice calls. And also really annoying to your neighbors, so don’t do that.

While using both the free version and the paid service, there were probably at least 10 instances where I’d get a “generic error” page asking me to be patient for a few minutes. Usually when I went back or tried again it would fix itself, but it made me worry about losing work while trying to save something.

That actually appeared to happen more often when I was using the paid Fly-Fi Plus, even when I wasn’t doing something taxing on the system like streaming, so that might be something to improve if it happens often.

As I said before, I only purchased one hour of the Fly-Fi Plus because most of what I’d be doing didn’t require super fast speeds. But because I didn’t buy the hour at the beginning of the flight, the “hour” was actually up much sooner for me. When warned about that impending deadline, I asked if it would just revert back to the basic service, because that would be just fine with me.

The JetBlue reps and their friends from satellite provider ViaSat who were onboard seemed a bit uneasy about that idea, telling me basically that they weren’t sure if the whole thing would just go kaput and kick me off the Fly-Fi entirely. To be safe, I then purchased another full hour for $9.

I’ve reached out to JetBlue to see if this was just something the staff present didn’t know the answer to, or whether it’s a concern for the rollout in general. That could be a problem if say, you only want super fast streaming to watch a two-hour movie on a six-hour flight, but might want to use email or just browse the Internet in the remaining time. I’ll let you know what I find out.

UPDATE: The answer is yes, says a JetBlue rep, yes you can go between free and paid: “The system is designed to handle someone going from free to paid,” he says, adding that in the initial test flights, that wasn’t so easy for everyone but could be because of the device, not the system.

“And you can also ‘pause’ your $9 per hour paid service while you go to the bathroom or do something else,” he explains.

In the meantime, this free period will only last through June 2014, after which it seems the basic version will come with a fee.

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