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How well does airport Wi-Fi work?

The results of Consumer Reports' survey of travelers may surprise you

Published: June 25, 2014 08:00 AM

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Need to kill time at the airport while waiting for your flight? Join the crowd and jump online with your phone, tablet, or computer. Our survey of travelers found that 85 percent of those toting a mobile device connected it to the Internet, and they were about evenly split between Wi-Fi and 3G/4G cellular service.

Of those who used Wi-Fi, 93 percent said it was free. They must not have been flying out of New York or Chicago, because JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark in the New York metropolitan region ($4.95 per hour) and Chicago O’Hare ($6.95 per hour) are among the few major hubs that still charge for Wi-Fi. You might find a few free hotspots in those airports—a JetBlue terminal at JFK, for instance—but be prepared to ante up otherwise.

New York’s airports might get free Wi-Fi soon, though; the wireless contract was being negotiated as we wrote this. (Check out Wi-Fi policies at your home or destination at airfarewatchdog.com, which provides a rundown of airport Wi-Fi policies.)

Or do what a lot of survey respondents did and opt for 3G/4G service instead. You can even use your phone’s cellular service to provide Wi-Fi to your tablet or laptop: About 15 percent of those who connected via Wi-Fi said they used their smart phone service as a hot spot for other devices. 

To get the best devices to connect on the go, check our tablet, laptop, and smart phone buying guides.

Most Wi-Fi users were pretty satisfied with the service provided: Almost 70 percent said the connection was flawless, and 80 percent said the speed met all or most of their needs. 3G/4G cellular service was just as satisfying, according to the survey, with 73 percent experiencing no interruptions and 85 percent saying the speed was fine.

Keep in mind that public networks aren’t secure: If you use Wi-Fi next time you’re waiting to board your flight, be careful. Don’t make any financial transactions, use a credit card, send sensitive e-mails, or share confidential personal information. And check our guide to Internet security for more tips and advice on staying safe online.

Eileen McCooey

Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center, March 2014. Survey of 6,205 CRO subscribers who own a smart phone, tablet, laptop, or Chromebook and have traveled for business or pleasure in the last 12 months.
   

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