Improved, free Wi-Fi for LGA, JFK, EWR Airports

Finally!  Travelers now get unlimited, free, high-speed Wi-Fi at John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR), LaGuardia (LGA) and New York Stewart International (SWF) airports.


Previously, passengers were limited to 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi via Boingo.

After that, you needed to switch devices to get another free session – or pony up cash.

Now, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey says the new high-speed Wi-Fi service offers  free two-click access to Wi-Fi running a minimum of 20 megabits per second (Mbps) and up to 50 Mbps – in unlimited four-hour sessions.

“While the unprecedented rebuilding of our region’s airports is a multi-year effort, passengers shouldn’t have to wait for better Wi-Fi,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “Simply put, free, reliable, high-speed Wi-Fi has become a bedrock expectation for today’s customers.”

Look for new signage about the enhanced Wi-Fi at the airport terminals and parking garages.  To access the new and improved service, log on to the “Free Wi-Fi”  listed  in the drop-down menus at each airport (i.e. “LGA Wi-Fi,”).

The service is free, but you may need to sit through a short ad before getting your free session.

We can complain all we want about the NY cit -area airports (and now we can complain on better airport Wi-Fi), but the Port Authority seems to be trying to make improvements:

In addition to Wi-Fi, the agency notes that recently-launched mobile-friendly websites give easier access to information such as taxi wait times and lost-and-found info. There are also upgraded restroom facilities in many terminals outfittedwith real-time monitoring of bathroom conditions via customer feedback push-buttons.

Dining options are getting makeovers in many parts of the airports as well.

Longer term:  There’s the $8 billion redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport, which should get its first new gates by the end of the year. Newark Liberty recently broke ground on a $2.7 billion construction of a new Terminal One to replace Terminal A, And a $13 billion plan to transform JFK was just unveiled promising two major new international terminals  at the south and north ends of the airport.


Free airport Wi-Fi: coming soon to LAX and MSP – maybe

Free Wi-Fi at the airport is one of those amenities travelers have all but come to expect. Still, there are some airports that remain hold-outs in this department.

Los Angeles International Airport has been one of those hold-outs. Although Wi-Fi is complimentary in some airline lounges (and outside some of those lounges… if you know where to go….), but most passengers who need to get on-line must pay to use the T-Mobile service.

With T-Mobile’s contract for LAX Wi-Fi ending, airport officials announced that they’d be seeking a new service that would offer Wi-Fi for free. In the meantime, the Board of Airport Commissioners went ahead and awarded a two-year contract to Miami-based Advanced Wireless Group, which would make WiFi at LAX free – for 45 minutes sessions – starting sometime this summer.

“The service LAX passengers request most is free Wi-Fi,” said Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey.

But the Los Angeles City City Council has nixed the deal because of concerns that other internet providers – most notably Los Angeles-based Boingo, which provides WiFi at more than 50 airports (and many hotels) – didn’t get a chance to bid on the interim contract.

Let’s hope they work it out. Because if we have to wait for the competitive bid process to play out, it could take 18 months to two years to check email for free at LAX.

In the meantime, another Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – another hold-out on the free Wi-Fi front – plans to offer free Wi-Fi by year’s end.

Airport Wi-Fi: Should you pay?

In my At the Airport column on USATODAY.com this month, I take a look at tiered Wi-Fi service being offered at some airports.  The big question is: should  you pay?

For years, one of the top if not the top amenity on many road warriors’ wish lists has been free Wi-Fi at the airport.

Slowly but surely, it’s happening.

Take a look at the USATODAY.com Airport Guides, airport websites, and various commercial and user-generated Wi-Fi directories. You’ll see there are now hundreds of U.S. airports offering travelers complimentary wireless Internet access.

San Francisco? Free. Orlando? Free. Seattle, Sacramento and San Jose? Free, free, free.

Washington’s Dulles and National airports? As of April, 2011, free as well.

Free Wi-Fi sounds great. But during heavy usage times at some airports, service often slows down. And some free airport Wi-Fi has strings. Most often, it’s in the form of advertising a user must view before getting online.

At Denver International Airport, “Sometimes it’s a session sponsorship, such as a video and then users are directed to the internet,” said DIA spokesperson Laura Coale. “Sometimes it is banner ads.”

At Boston’s Logan International Airport, where 198,000 free Wi-Fi sessions were logged during May, travelers must click through to a second screen before they see the button offering free Wi-Fi. “The user agrees to watch a short commercial or take a survey to gain access to the free site,” said airport spokesperson Mathew Brelis, “That times out after an hour and they need to log back on again.”

There remain some holdouts. Notable among airports that only offer paid Wi-Fi (outside of airline club lounges) are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and JFK, except for JetBlue’s Terminal 5, where complimentary Wi-Fi is offered as an amenity by the airline. There’s a plan underway to provide free Wi-Fi at Los Angeles International Airport within a year.

Is a little Wi-Fi too little?

At some airports that cannot yet swing free Wi-Fi financially or contractually, there is a new model: hybrid, or tiered, service. Complimentary Wi-Fi with limited time and, often, limited bandwidth is available, but for a fee travelers can also choose more secure, robust and unlimited service.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City offers travelers 20 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi. In Houston, travelers get 45 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi at both Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental airports.

“Some revenue needs to be generated by Boingo, our wireless vendor, to cover the costs of the Wi-Fi system,” explains Houston Airports spokesperson Marlene McClinton, “And charges for upgraded, faster downloads and beyond 45 minutes help.”

“The airport is weighing the possibility of offering entirely free Wi-Fi,” said McClinton, “But a timeline and strategy are still being discussed.”

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has had some form of paid Wi-Fi available since 2000, but in May it began offering travelers a complimentary 30-minute session. Once the free session expires, a customer must wait 24 hours for another, find one of the airport’s free internet kiosks, or purchase premium access from the airport’s Wi-Fi provider, Boingo Wireless, which has roaming agreements with a variety of partners.

“Austin’s airport has different customer groups,” said spokesman Jim Halbrook. “Our business travelers need and pay for a premium Wi-Fi product. The 30-minute complimentary Wi-Fi sessions are a convenient amenity for casual users,” he said. “It’s our way of fulfilling the needs of very different travelers.”

Nashville International Airport is currently evaluating its Wi-Fi options. During the winter, the airport complemented paid airport-wide Wi-Fi with 20 minutes of sponsored Wi-Fi in the Meeter/Greeter areas and in the food court.

“We are still determining the impact of the promotion to our business model,” said airport spokesperson Emily Richard. “Airport officials are studying how to continue to offer a complimentary service to customers that desire it and a level of service and security for those customers who require it.”

For now, sponsored, complimentary Wi-Fi continues to be offered in the food court.

Why just the food court?

“Anecdotal studies say free Wi-Fi may have an overall negative effect on airport revenue,” explains Boingo Wireless spokesman Christian Gunning. “If people are watching a movie on-line they’re not walking around the airport shopping or spending money in the food court.”

Do travelers care?

Karen Marmolejo, a career/life coach in Sacramento, won’t pay for Wi-Fi at an airport, but is grateful when free access is offered. “Generally I don’t need access to the internet for more than 20 minutes anyway as there are many things I can do on my laptop that doesn’t require me to be online,” she said.

But Forrester Research travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said hybrid Wi-Fi “is a way for airports to avoid building out the infrastructure to support travelers. It is cheap — and annoying… Shame on them.”

Annoying or not, hybrid Wi-Fi plans at airports may be sticking around.

“Consumers are familiar with these kinds of policies where the heaviest users pay higher fees,” said Amy Cravens, senior analyst for In-Stat. “The tiered pricing model has its place in the hotspot market, particularly in airports where the amount of time spent on the network varies so greatly.”

Outside airports, many travelers are already making those choices.

A survey by travel research organization YPartnership found that 67% of frequent travelers have had a bad experience with free Internet while on the road. “Nearly half of those respondents are willing to pay for Internet. They just want fast service to get their work done and to access the Internet for entertainment,” said David Garrison, CEO of iBAHN, the provider of internet service at 300,000 hotel rooms worldwide.

“[T]he explosion in the use of photos and videos — think Facebook, You Tube and devices like iPad — has caused the amount of data per session to go up 50% per year. So free is not free and it’s getting more expensive every year.”

Note: Every bit helps: after I wrote this article I noticed Boingo was celebrating its 10th anniversary by giving away free Wi-Fi minutes and assorted prizes. Get your free Wi-Fi code here.


Photo courtesy slambo_42 via Flickr Commons

Free wifi -finally- at Austin Bergstrom International Airport

Back in 2000, Austin was a very high-tech place and the Austin Bergstrom International Airport was perhaps the first airport to have Wi-Fi available in the terminal.

The service wasn’t free, but least it was there.

Free Wi-FI at airport

Now, of course, pretty much every airport is wired and, increasingly, the service is offered for free.

For some reason, Austin’s airport has been a free Wi-Fi holdout.

Not anymore: the Austin airport has worked out a deal with Boingo Wireless to offer complimentary Wi-Fi service. But it’s a hybrid system:

Travelers will only get one complimentary Wi-Fi session each 24 hours, so if you’re doing more than just sending a quick email, you’ll have to pony up and pay for additional, more robust, service.

There are however, some free internet access kiosks at Gates 5, 8, 11, 15, 21 and in baggage claim.

Paid options include: $4.95 for one hour, $7.95 for a day pass, or $9.95 for a month of unlimited access at all of Boingo’s North and South America hotspot locations. If you’re working on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, you can buy one-hour Boingo credits for $1.99 at the iTunes Store.

And if you do find yourself stuck at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, there are plenty of reasons not to spend all your time on the computer.

Austin’s airport has a great deal of art and an ambitious Music in the Air concert series that includes close to a dozen live in-terminal concerts a week.


Tidbits for travelers: Free Wi-Fi, Olympic travel tips, and in-flight body-mass tax

We want Wi-Fi

Slowly but surely airports large and small are getting with the program and making free wireless Internet access available in the terminals.

The latest major airport to join the party: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).


Packing tips from Olympic athletes

Curious about what some Olympic athletes do when they’re traveling – or getting ready to travel? Them you may in interested in the video clips the folks at VISA (a 2010 Olympics sponsor) have posted of athletes talking about what they pack, how they prep for a trip, how skier Ryan St. Onge just had to have an airport burrito, and what Olympic Hockey player Angela Ruggiero packs in her carry-on.

Just as interesting, is the fact that the credit card company is giving away a trip to the Olympics – for life. To enter, you just need to charge something on a VISA card.

Seat tax on Air France for Seatmates of Size

And, just a day after announcing that it was introducing “the lightest and most comfortable short-haul seat in the world,” on some of its planes, Air France announced that passengers who cannot fit into a single seat (on any Air France flight) will have to pay for a second seat – at 75% of the cost of the first seat.

The new policy applies to tickets purchased beginning February 1st for flights April 1st and beyond.

Think the new rules may apply to you? Here’s the policy for Passengers with High Body Mass.

What do you think? Should seatmates of size be asked to pay for more than one seat?