Why Paying for In-Flight Wi-Fi Just Isn’t Worth It

Airplane Wi-Fi should be free—but until it is, find something better to do on your flight.

On an airplane, you’re a child. You’re told when to stand and sit. Drinks are brought to your seat in a little cup. Bathroom visits basically require a hall pass. I’m not pointing this out to foment anarchic potty breaks during takeoff. I am recommending, however, that you make air travel easier for yourself by embracing your status as an honorary little kid—and that in this spirit, you never, ever buy the in-flight Wi-Fi.

“But I want phone! Phone good!” you might object. And I hear that. But being a child in today’s world involves both limited screen time and simple choices. As the internet is a labyrinth of complex quasi-choices administered with dubious ethics, it’s ill suited to the occasion. Also, in-flight Wi-Fi should obviously just be complimentary.

The thing is, the Wi-Fi is already on the plane. It’s not like you click a button on the phone and they start beaming it to you. They’re charging you because they know you’ll pay for it. If we all decide to band together and stop paying for access, maybe airlines will give it to us for free.

So instead of shelling out for the privilege of connecting to the internet, I humbly advise you to take a stand, save some cash, and treat your inner child to a few special airplane activities until you pass out.

kid on airplane
Treat your inner child to a few special airplane activities. | Olesia Bilkei/Shutterstock

Do something with your time

Air travel is not normal life, so don’t try to make it feel normal. Struggling against your seatbelt only makes it feel tighter. Embrace the constraint and pick specific activities to focus on.

First things first: Scrolling through your phone—the most likely course of action any time you have access to the internet—is not an activity. It’s the absence of an activity, and it has no place in the air. This is your chance to do anything else for a few hours. Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Avail yourself of an adult coloring book. Contemplate the casual miracle of jet propulsion. Survey the illuminated cloudscape. Meditate. Write a sonnet. Watch a movie. Compare and contrast your thumbs. Options abound!

I recommend finding activities to exclusively do during air travel, thereby tricking yourself into feeling like you’re getting a little treat.

For example, I only buy Harpers at weird airport convenience stores. I like that magazine, but not as much as I like it at the airport after not reading it for months. Another example: During the flight itself, I use free software to feebly attempt to compose for string quartet. Crucially, I can’t actually write music for string quartet. But trying is fun and challenging enough to keep my mind occupied. And I never do this unless I’m on an airplane. Again, you’ve got to trick yourself into feeling like this is a special time, not an awful trial of dramatically reduced autonomy.

You could even try buying a book at the airport to only read while flying. Within a year, you will have finished a book, learned something, and increased your social capital. If you fly often, maybe you can knock out a novel in a few months. Alternatively, if your flight has on-board movies, you could pick a movie you’d never consider watching otherwise. Even if it’s bad, you’ll have devoted all of your attention to something and experienced a little variety in your life. And that’s what travel is all about.

Get time off work

Speaking of how you spend all your time, not buying in-flight Wi-Fi is a great way to get time off work. Accomplishing this is simple: Just lie!

Tell your boss that you’ll be working on the plane. Once you board, lament that the internet is down, nothing to be done, and instead you’ll just have to watch a double feature of ‘80s buddy cop comedies. Airplane Wi-Fi fails all the time, and no one knows how the internet works anyway, so your boss can’t really contradict you here.

Air travel is stressful enough without adding actual work to it, and in a sense, this way you’ll have made money on your flight by getting paid for nothing.

sleeping woman on airplane
If all else fails, just go to sleep. | Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Save some cash

If you are the kind of person who needs numbers to justify your actions, let’s do some accounting.

I pay roughly $40 dollars a month for internet access in New York. At twenty-four hours a day, that’s like pennies for an hour—or something? I don’t know how to come to the actual result via mathematics. But rhetorically you understand what I’m getting at here. If you pay for plane Wi-Fi, you’re getting a much worse deal—and you’re spending that money on top of what you already spend for internet at home. The cash would be better spent on booze, which is overpriced in any setting, and thus clearly the better option.

Go to sleep

If all else fails, just remember that the cheapest entertainment option since time immemorial has been to go to bed. And since we’re all little kids when we’re flying, consider this: You may want to check Instagram, but you’re sure to be cranky without your naptime.

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James Chrisman is an editor at Thrillist.