Greetings from thousands of feet above somewhere in Europe, where I'm blogging – for the first and probably last time – via Boeing's Connexion in-flight Wi-Fi service, which the company has announced it will discontinue.
How's the Connexion experience, at least for this particular user on this particular flight? I was worried when I first tried to log in – while we were on the ground in Hamburg due to a medical emergency – and got an error message. Once we were airborne, I tried again and got in, and it's working pretty well.
I've been surfing and doing email, have used our VPN (virtual private network) and checked our web traffic, and now I'm blogging. YouTube video is kinda bursty, but my favourite video blog, Bloggingheads.tv, is perfectly watchable and listenable on its low-bandwidth setting.
I haven't attempted any formal speed tests, but stuff that's usually quick on earthbound Wi-Fi seems bearable up here, and things that are a tad sluggish down below (Lotus Notes, for instance) feel noticeably slower up here. But they still happen, and I'm being productive during time that might have been lost to me otherwise. Bottom line: slightly pokey internet access is infinitely better than no internet access at all.
I'm paying $26.95 to use Connexion for the duration of the flight (you can also buy service in hourly chunks, starting at ten bucks for one hour). That sounds pricey on first blush, but if I were to use it continuously during all the time I'm allowed to use my notebook up here, it would be about three bucks an hour.
But that brings up a significant issue. I'm usually happy with my Macbook's battery life, but Connexion changes that. Normally when I'm flying, I turn off Wi-Fi and get about 3.5 hours of life, which is usually enough to let me do whatever I need; it's rare for me to drain the battery entirely. With Connexion, though, I have to leave Wi-Fi turned on, of course, which is a significant hit on battery life. And the simple fact that I have access to the web means there's a lot more I can do. Suddenly, my laptop's battery performance isn't nearly so satisfactory. (In fact, I'm racing to finish this post.)
Battery life wouldn't be an issue if every aeroplane seat had a power jack, and if every traveller carried an plane-friendly DC adapter – but neither of these 'ifs' is anything like a reality. And neither is true for me on this flight. So oddly enough, the presence of Connexion makes me sorry I didn't bring a few more magazines to read, once my battery conks out.
One small gripe: when you've disconnected from Connexion (say, to eat dinner, which I just did), reconnecting is kind of a hassle. It's been taking me a minute or so and several clicks, including an annoying CAPTCHA test.
More in-flight Wi-Fi options will come along to replace Connexion, so I'm not completely dejected that I only got to try it once. It may be my one and only experience with Boeing's service, but I can consider it a preview of what we'll all get eventually, when internet access in the air is no biggie.