Mile High WiFi: A First Look at In-Flight Internet Connectivity

John P. Rula, James Newman, Fabián E. Bustamante, Arash Molavi Kakhki, David Choffnes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

15 Scopus citations


In-Flight Communication (IFC), available on a growing number of commercial flights, is often received by consumers with both awe for its mere availability and harsh criticism for its poor performance. Indeed, IFC provides Internet connectivity in some of the most challenging conditions with aircraft traveling at speeds in excess of 500 mph at 30,000 feet above the ground. Yet, while existing services do provide basic Internet \em accessibility, anecdotal reports rank their quality of service as, at best, poor. In this paper, we present the first characterization of deployed IFC systems. Using over 45 flight-hours of measurements, we profile the performance of IFC across the two dominant access technologies - direct air-to-ground communication (DA2GC) and mobile satellite service (MSS). We show that IFC QoS is in large part determined by the high latencies inherent to DA2GC and MSS, with RTTs averaging 200ms and 750ms, respectively, and that these high latencies directly impact the performance of common applications such as web browsing. While each IFC technology is based on well studied wireless communication technologies, our findings reveal that IFC links experience further degraded link performance than their technological antecedents. We find median loss rates of 7%, and nearly 40% loss at the 90th percentile for MSS, 6.8x larger than recent characterizations of residential satellite networks. We extend our IFC study exploring the potential of the newly released HTTP/2 and QUIC protocols in an emulated IFC environment, finding that QUIC is able to improve page load times by as much as 7.9 times. In addition, we find that HTTP/2»s use of multiplexing multiple requests onto a single TCP connection performs up to 4.8x \em worse than HTTP/1.1 when faced with large numbers of objects. We use network emulation to explore proposed technological improvements to existing IFC systems finding that high link losses, and not bandwidth, account for the largest factor of performance degradation with applications such as web browsing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Web Conference 2018 - Proceedings of the World Wide Web Conference, WWW 2018
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery, Inc
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781450356398
StatePublished - Apr 10 2018
Event27th International World Wide Web, WWW 2018 - Lyon, France
Duration: Apr 23 2018Apr 27 2018

Publication series

NameThe Web Conference 2018 - Proceedings of the World Wide Web Conference, WWW 2018


Conference27th International World Wide Web, WWW 2018


  • In-flight conenctivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Software


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