Have you travelled on an airplane recently?
More and more, airplanes are providing some form of Wifi connections, often controlled by the plane, and let’s be honest, often a lot slower than we’re used to.
It’s easy to complain about these speeds, but there are a few reasons for airplane Wifi being so poor – the one that is most interesting to us at Vecta Labs is that airplanes have been working to incorporate and provide Wifi to passengers to help keep us connected, while at the same time, ensuring our devices aren’t trying to connect to the network of cell towers we’re flying over.
Airplane Wifi does not use cell towers, but rather (for the most part) it uses modem’s that link to satellite’s. This all gets very complicated, in that the satellite connection speeds we can experience using modems from ground locations are much faster than those on airplanes.
Airplane network speed is limited, but what makes it feel so laggy is ping – when all of the passengers are trying to connect to the same modem and limited network, ping times are extended significantly, and that’s why network speeds on a plane can feel so slow.
So, why, when traveling domestically should we not just connect using our own networks? It can be much faster.
According to a 2022 article written by veteran pilot, Christy Karsten published on Travel Awaits, problems can occur when cell phones data transmission competes with the airplane instrument data transmission:
“The problem is that cell phones transmit radio waves to cell towers on the ground. Those wavelengths span most of the radio spectrum. Instruments and avionics on jets rely on radio waves, too, similar to the radio waves transmitted by mobile phones.
“If everyone on the jet turned on and used their phones at the same time, the group of electronic devices might transmit radio waves powerful enough to interfere with the data capability of the aircraft. Flying low visibility approaches requires extremely accurate data that is displayed to the pilots, who interpret the information and fly safely and land.
“Any disruptions or interference with the instrumentation would require a “missed approach,” most likely resulting in landing at an alternate airport.”
So, there you have it – using your phone on the plane can interfere with the data capabilities of the plane, and even cause pilots to fly off course… In our humble opinions, it’s best to switch your phone off while flying and do your part to ensure the pilot can get you to your destination safe and sound.