Air Canada’s GoGo In Flight WiFi Tested; A Turbulence Free Experience
So here I sit on a flight between Toronto and San Francisco when lo and behold, a WiFi network becomes available. Many may have forgotten this but last year Air Canada began adding in-flight WiFi on some of their long haul flights to the United States. Initially it was only offered on select flights between Montreal or Toronto and Los Angeles but since the first rollout, expansion to other routes from Canada to the US was inevitable.
Some may be wondering why you haven’t seen this on other flights but unfortunately the answer isn’t quite as simple as you might expect. Due to a set of rather archaic laws governing electronics emission from within planes, NavCan doesn’t currently allow for in flight WiFi on planes travelling within Canada. This naturally limits the market for a Canadian airline that wants to offer additional in flight services to their customers. Luckily, the folks south of the border are a bit more open about such things and Air Canada’s WiFi usually gets turned on the second the flight crosses the 49th parallel.
At this point, the “GoGo” inflight internet uses terrestrial satellite receivers and is open to all WiFi enabled devices but there are some things you should know before logging on. For Smartphones that use OSes from BlackBerry, Microsoft, Google, Nokia and Apple, the service is completely free but the connection speeds really aren’t all that great. During testing, the Hardware Canucks mobile website took over a minute to load and the connection was routinely dropped. Tablets (Android, iOS and Blackberry) and notebooks get better connection speeds and additional connection points but there’s an additional charge of $9.95 levied by logging on through Air Canada’s dedicated site. Since this quick article is being done on a notebook, I decided to pony up the ten bucks but please remember that you can realize some substantial savings by buying beforehand by logging on to Gogo Inflight
All in all, payment, login and the instructions accompanying each step before connection are well laid out. You should be up and running in no time, as long as you can find your wallet and haven’t left your credit card at Customs.
While every internet site I normally visit was accessible (sorry folks, I didn’t try any *ahem*…mature site this time around), certain bandwidth hogging services like VOIP are blocked. You may have to wait a bit longer for certain sites since everyone wants to take advantage of this previously banned novelty and the YouTube sensation seemed to have taken over my particular flight.
Air Canada does however offer some additional incentives like free access to The Wall Street Journal Online and some great Frommers travel guides for the destination of your choice. Unfortunately, the WSJ section wasn’t working at first but…..
….there’s an excellent online tech support chat which fixed the issue almost immediately. In all honesty, the support from the online representative was better than most Canadian telecoms offer these days so kudos to Air Canada and GoGo on this front.
But what about raw performance?
While the actual “performance” didn’t quite bring us back to the 56K modem days, don’t expect blazingly fast download and upload speeds. It was a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from land-based services but there are a number of factors influencing performance: a clogged network, extreme distances to land-based proxies and perhaps a bit of throttling all march hand in hand on this service.
Basically, GoGo is fast enough to check email and browse most websites but don’t expect to watch streaming video without significant buffering times. For example, loading our entire NZXT video review took about 13 minutes.
Can the GoGo Internet service be considered a reason to choose Air Canada over the competition? Absolutely not but that isn’t to say it doesn’t come in handy for business travelers or parents trying in vain to keep their child content. Connection speeds aren’t great but they are more than functional enough to browse websites, check email and update a few online documents.
Over the years, Air Canada has come under fire from a number of different directions. However, the addition of internet access alongside their class leading (and free!) enRoute infotainment systems does tend to make one of their flights pass by much quicker than those of the competition. GoGo may just be a pilot project for now but let’s hope it gets rolled out to more flights in the near future.
*Posted from 27,0000 feet above Denver on an Air Canada flight.
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