In-Flight Wi-Fi Is Getting More Common, But you Still Need to Be Cautious

Even at 10,000 feet your data could be at risk

  • Delta is launching free Wi-Fi service for its domestic flights.
  • Many travelers say they enjoy using in-flight Wi-Fi for work and entertainment. 
  • Security experts warn that it’s best to use a VPN when flying.
People using electronic devices on a plane.

2021 Joel Guay/Shodanphotos / Getty Images

Airplane travel is getting more connected, but not everyone thinks that's a good thing. 

Delta Air Lines has begun offering "free and fast" Wi-Fi on most domestic flights. While some travelers welcomed the move, others say they will miss the digital detox afforded by plane travel, and security experts say there are risks to connecting in the skies. 

"Using public Wi-Fi on a flight can create privacy risks for passengers as the hotspot provider can track what everyone is doing online," Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at the website ProPrivacy told Lifewire in an email interview. "This tracking can be exploited for profiling purposes, to generate a revenue stream by selling user data to third parties, or to engage in targeted marketing."

Wi-Fi Everywhere

Delta will offer the new Wi-Fi service on more than 700 Viasat-equipped aircraft by the end of 2023. The airline also announced plans to bring free Wi-Fi on international and regional aircraft by the end of 2024.

"At work, at home, and everywhere in between, connectivity is essential to daily life, and your journey on Delta should be no different," said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in the news release. "Our vision has long been to deliver an experience at 30,000 feet that feels similar to what our customers have available on the ground."

Visitors to Europe will also be getting more in-flight data options. The European Commission recently ruled that airlines will be able to provide 5G connectivity on planes. Meanwhile, US regulators are considering increasing limits on 5G service around airports due to concerns the technology could interfere with aircraft navigation. 

Matt James, the founder of the travel blog praised the Delta announcement. He said in an email that having email access while on a flight is extremely convenient for travelers. 

"It allows them to stay connected with their work, friends, and family," James added. "This can help to reduce the stress and anxiety that can come with being away from home and out of touch. In addition, having email access can help to keep travelers productive and engaged during their flight, allowing them to catch up on work, send emails, and stay informed about important events."

But James said that while having email access on a flight is convenient, there are also some downsides to consider. The speed and reliability of the Wi-Fi may not always be ideal, making it difficult for users to connect to the internet or send emails. 

"In addition, the cost of Wi-Fi can be a barrier for some travelers, especially if they have to pay for it on a regular basis," James added. "Finally, there may be security concerns with using Wi-Fi on a flight, as some users may be concerned about hackers or other malicious actors accessing their data."

A parent and child using a tablet on an airplane.

JulPo / Getty Images

Walsh said that passengers who use free public Wi-Fi on Delta Air Line should use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt their data and protect themselves against tracking, profiling, and data theft at the hands of eavesdroppers.

"It is also worth noting that in-flight Wi-Fi is often slow and may restrict popular websites such as YouTube," Walsh added. "A VPN can help to improve your experience by letting you bypass blocks to use any of your favorite websites and services."

Always Connected? 

Ben Souza, the editor of the travel website Cruise Fever, said in an email that he recently took a couple of flights where Delta tested the free Wi-Fi. He did a speed test and got 70 Mbps downloads and 1 Mbps uploads. 

"It will actually save me quite a bit of money as I fly Delta over 100,000 miles a year and always purchase Wi-Fi so I can get some work done," he added. 

Travel blogger Taima Ramsey said in an email interview that she enjoyed using Delta's new service on a recent flight but missed the ability to check out of work mentally. 

"Once upon a time, flights were an opportunity to live off the grid for a few hours," Ramsey said. "And while it is nice to have Wi-Fi and get work done, it is also nice to disconnect from a lifestyle where we are otherwise always connected and have to be 'on' and 'available' at all times."

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