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Wi-Fi in the sky: Why most airlines don't have it yet

Everywhere we go, more and more things are getting connected to the Internet – except in the skies, that is.

While the majority of flyers in the US enjoy free Wi-Fi on their domestic flights, few international flights are even equipped to allow their passengers access to the World Wide Web.

For most Singaporeans who can't seem to put down their phones and other mobile devices, this might seem like a travesty in this day and age.

However, the answer for that lies in the keyword – domestic.

The US' huge land mass allows their aircraft to stay connected to the Internet via their massive Air to Ground (or ATG) network, which operates on the country's web of cellular towers.

Essentially, all a plane needs to have is an antenna fixed to its belly and it becomes a giant flying Wi-fi hotspot.

Such a system simply cannot work on long-haul international flights, which fly over massive bodies of water.

Instead, the Wi-fi on existing airlines such as Singapore Airlines comes about via a satellite uplink, which costs a lot more (as one Canadian who received a hefty $1,500 Wi-fi bill from SIA can testify to).


PHOTO: AFP

Here's a quick breakdown of what kind of Wi-fi sevices are available to Singaporeans from some select airlines and how much they cost.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES: Available on A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft. Price varies by provider and package. Examples on SIA's website list volume-based packages from US$9.99 (S$13.80) for 10MB of data and time-based packages from US$11.95 per hour.

MALAYSIAN AIRLINES: No Wi-fi services listed.

AIRASIA: Limited to mobile devices with the roKKi chat application (which allows you to use apps like WhatsApp, Twitter, WeChat, Line) installed aboard enabled aircraft. Passengers must purchase 3MB data tokens at RM9 (S$3.18) each.

JETSTAR: None. Passengers can stream videos on board when they hire an in-flight entertainment iPad unit, but there is no mention of Internet connectivity.

SCOOT: Wi-Fi available on Boeing 787 aircraft. Available in three packages - US$11.96 for one hour, US$16.95 for three hours and US$21.95 for 24 hours. No data limit.

TIGERAIR: No Wi-fi services listed.

QATAR AIRWAYS: Wi-fi available. Price packages not listed on website and are viewable in-flight.

EMIRATES: Available on most A380 planes and select Boeing 777 flights. Users can enjoy 10MB of data for free and buy additional 500MB data bundles for US$1.

CATHAY PACIFIC: Unavailable, but 12 of its new A350 fleet will be outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities when they take to the skies in 2016.

KLM: Unavailable. Only one of their Boeing 777s is Wi-Fi enabled as a pilot initiative.

Source: South China Morning Post

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