free Wi-Fi

How to find free Wi-Fi at airports

San Diego Airport new seats

If your business takes you to or through a few airports on a regular basis you already know if the Wi-Fi is free (and the location of the power outlets and best coffee).

But it’s often less than straightforward to jump online if you start or end your trip in an unfamiliar airport.

Many airports proudly promote their free Wi-Fi on concourse signs, on their websites and whenever someone in the airport opens a browser.

“As airlines consolidate and airports compete for traffic and air service, every little amenity helps to lure flyers, and free Wi-Fi is a great perk to keep consumers happy while they wait for the flights,” said Airfarewatchdog President George Hobica.

But, citing economic factors and long-running contracts, many airports still charge for Wi-Fi or offer just a few minutes of free access. Some airports, including O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, allow travelers to visit some tourism and shopping websites for free, but if you want to check email or conduct business, it will cost you. Still others are moving to a hybrid plan offering limited Wi-Fi for free but more robust service for a fee.

“A typical airline passenger carries two Internet-enabled devices such as a laptop and smartphone, or a smartphone and tablet,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and strategist with Hudson Crossing. And because many of these devices are bandwidth hogs, “we’re seeing some airports charge extra for high-bandwidth activities such as audio and video downloads.”

You can poke around an airport’s website for the status of the Wi-Fi offered, but there are a few other ways to determine if an airport offers free or fee-based Wi-Fi. has an airport Wi-Fi map that draws Wi-Fi status information from the on-the-ground experiences of its writers and tips from travelers who use the map and send reports on where they’ve successfully accessed complimentary airport Wi-Fi.

“The main challenge right now is noting what networks are truly free and unlimited (examples: Hong Kong, JFK’s Terminal 5) and which are ad-supported, limited-time connections, as the latter is becoming more common, but not less confusing,” said Jaunted’s managing editor Cynthia Drescher.

The team at Airfarewatchdog just published its own downloadable airport Wi-Fi chart offering a snapshot of the Wi-Fi offered at many popular U.S. and international airports. But the chart is already out of date.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, for example, is listed as “pricing unavailable,” but travelers currently get 30 free minutes of free Wi-Fi per device. In September the airport will switch providers (from Boingo to AWG) and begin offering free, faster Wi-Fi. (An advertisement will be shown every 45 minutes and paid higher-speed Wi-Fi will also be available.)

The Airfarewatchdog chart also doesn’t include the fact that in Houston, both George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport offer 45 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi to passengers. According to airport spokesperson Darian Ward, the goal is to begin rolling out completely free Wi-Fi in some terminals by the end of the year.

If you’re at an airport with a fee for Wi-Fi and you are unwilling to enter your credit card information, some travelers have had luck getting passwords for the Wi-Fi signal in airline lounges and cafes by using a free mobile phone app or search engine to look on sites such as Faceboook, Foursquare or Twitter for passwords being shared by other travelers.

(But you didn’t hear that here.)

My story about Where to find free Wi-Fi at airports first appeared on the CNBC Road Warrior blog.

Surf’s up at Munich Airport

The surf’s definitely up at Munich Airport this summer.


The 3rd European Standing Wave Championship is going on this weekend in a giant wave pool installed between two runways at Munich Airport, with surfers competing for 10,000 euros in prize money.

Here’s a highlight video from last year:

The competition is part of the “Surf & Style powered by Lufthansa” event running through August 25 and anyone can stop by and go surfing from 10 am until 8pm. There’s even a free surfing time each day starting at 3 pm (reservations required).

For those who have finished surfing or who just want to hang out by the water, there’s a beach area with palm trees, lounge chairs and a cocktail bar.

There’s another way to surf for free at Munich Airport: on the internet.

In the past, 30 free Wi-Fi minutes were only accessible to those who opened a browser, put in a mobile phone number and waited for a text message with a log-in code.

Now you just need to launch a browser and plug in an email address to get on-line.

Free Wi-Fi at Heathrow Airport

Someday there will be complimentary Wi-Fi at all airports.

We’re moving in that direction, but some pretty major airports still charge for that service.

Heathrow Airport has been one of them. But that will change – somewhat – when the airport’s contract with Boingo expires on May 31, 2013 and a new one, with Arqiva, goes live on Saturday, June 1.

Under the new service, everyone will get 45 minutes of free Wi-Fi at Heathrow once every calendar day. Members of the free Heathrow Rewards program will get 90 minutes of free Wi-Fi.  A Heathrow Airport spokesperson said passengers will not be permitted to log on to the free service from the same device more than once per calendar day.

After your time is up, the fees will be about $1.50 for one hour and about $7.50 for three hours.  A 24 hour pass will be about $13.60, by today’s exchange rates.

Look for more information about the new Wi-Fi service on the Heathrow Airport website beginning June 1.

50th Birthday Party for Chicago O’Hare Airport


Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is having a 50th Anniversary Celebration this week with a wide variety of special theme days, music, activities and – yay – discounts and free stuff for passengers.

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Here’s a run-down.

Throughout the week, many concessions will be offering discounts and specials.

Monday, March 25 is Military Appreciation Day. 

Military and cadet bands will perform in all terminals from 2 to 5 p.m and United Service Organizations of Illinois (USO) will staff tables in the domestic terminals to share information about O’Hare’s two USO centers for military personnel and their families.

Tuesday, March 26 is Family Day. 

All terminals will have family-themed entertainment including jugglers, face painters, balloon twisters and clowns from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Children’s activity books will be distributed at food and beverage concessions all week long.

Wednesday, March 27 is O’Hare Employee Day. 

There will be special treats for all the people who work at the airport and, for everyone, performances by Chicago Blues bands in all the terminals from 2 to 5 p.m.

Thursday, March 28 – Business Community Day. 

For everyone who needs to take care of business while passing through the airport, there will be 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi via Boingo’s splash screen.

Jazz bands will perform in all the terminals from 2 to 5 p.m.

Friday, March 29 – Celebrate Chicago Day. 

Choose Chicago reps will be handing out information about Chicago and there will be International music performances in all terminals from 2 to 5 p.m.

Eli’s Cheesecake Café will also roll out an an enormous cheesecake and offer free slices to passengers in Terminal 1 near Gate B9.

Travel Tidbits: blizzard, extra points and free Wi-Fi


Thanks to Storm Nemo, on Thursday evening I was one of the hundreds of thousands of travelers who had to cancel important weekend plans that involved flying to the east coast.

Then I had to sit on the phone for hours trying to work out a new and, it turns out, quite expensive new plan.

For those of you still trying to figure out your options, here’s a link to a list of many of the change-fee waiver policies airlines have posted.

In other news…. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport announced that it is the latest airport to join the Thanks Again program, which offers travelers frequent flyer miles or points for qualifying purchases made at the airport for things such as parking, food and retail items. Travelers at DFW will also be able to get points or miles for stays at the airport hotels, such as the Grand Hyatt, and at Paradise 4 Paws, the airport’s pet hotel.

170 other airports already participate in the Thanks Again program – which requires a simple sign-up and registration of a credit-card.

And during the month of February passengers at John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark Liberty International (EWR) airports – as well as passengers at some New York City subway stations – will be able to get complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi sessions courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line, which is celebrating a new ship, the Norwegian Breakaway.

That should come in handy if you end up stuck at one of those airports – or in the city – this weekend due to Storm Nemo.