Spirit Airlines claims to offer the fastest internet in the sky. And just looking at a standard speed test result likely would support that claim. The Spirit solution kept me connected reasonably well on a recent flight. But there’s a lot more to connection performance than just the top line numbers, and the Thales Inflyt-powered solution on board shows why there’s more to inflight connectivity than just the megabits.
Connecting to the system is easy. The seatback included a QR code to associate a device to the network, or it can be selected manually.
I logged in to the network using a pass purchased during booking for a prior flight where the system never turned on. I paid just $1 for my “browsing” session on board. The airline was charging $7 for that service during my flight.
Making sure I had the code available without WiFi while on board was a bit tricky; how do I access my older emails without being online at the time? But I planned ahead and was able to connect smoothly once the portal activated.
And, of course, a speed test was the first thing I tried once I got past the advertising on the portal page.
Download speeds near 70 Mbps are some of the fastest in the sky. That’s more than enough speed for a video to load, at least in theory. I tested several services, however, and they all came up short.
Other services worked reasonably well on the less expensive plan, though I did have one or two small hiccups along the way.
Limiting the performance of streaming services, despite ample bandwidth available, is not much of a surprise. Spirit and Thales also sell a streaming option for $3 more. Fortunately for passengers, the option exists to upgrade for just that incremental fee rather than buying a full plan anew.
With the additional $3 paid, speeds increased a smidgen. But, more importantly, streaming videos started to work perfectly.
The service also worked well out over the water off South Carolina. This is an area that historically saw coverage gaps when using older satellite solutions optimized for serving terrestrial customers. With coverage provided by the SES-17 satellite designed for mobility applications across the Americas, however, that gap is not an issue.
Alas, the inflight map defaulted to the wrong time zone, continuing a trend of inflight maps that don’t tell time very well.
Overall, the system performs as advertised in this instance. I’ve heard rumblings that reliability is not quite where Spirit and Thales want it to be, and I’ve personally experienced the lack of service on a flight where it should have been online.
But, generally speaking prices are relatively low, and the prepaid voucher system works, as does buying on board. Now they’ll just have to see if enough passengers are willing to pay for the service to cover the costs.
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