Once the FAA lifted the rule requiring your electronics to be shut off during takeoff and landing, it was really only a matter of time before a new arms race started with airlines to give you the most Internet. Southwest, though, has already fired off the first bazooka round.
Essentially, once you’re at the gate with a Southwest flight, you never, ever have to leave the Internet if you don’t want to. The company will provide gate to gate WiFi for its customers, and the other airlines aren’t going to be offering that anytime soon. How and why that is stems from the tech Southwest is using.
GoGo Gadget WiFi
Most airlines, as frequent travelers know, use GoGo to provide inflight WiFi. Gogo is a good service, but it’s also a very specific one; GoGo uses cellular towers pointed directly at the sky and antennas on planes to make an Internet connection. Think of it as a digital umbilical to the Earth; it’s useful technology, but it’s not going to do you much good when you’re on the ground. You just can’t get a signal.
Southwest, on the other hand, uses a satellite-based technology to provide WiFi on its flights, so keeping you on the same WiFi connection isn’t much of a production; they just have to install the right equipment at the gate and fire it up.
It’s unlikely this advantage will last for very long, though; first of all, airlines are probably outfitting their gates with standard WiFi access points as we speak. Secondly, it seems likely as the fight for travelers intensifies, airlines will try and find new ways to offer this service. That said, for now, if you want to travel without being disconnected from the Internet, Southwest will likely be your best bet.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.