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November 24th, 2008

Airport Wi-Fi Can Be Bad… Or Good

I confess I’m not sure of the vast implications of installing airport-wide wi-fi. But my experiences at Chicago-Midway and Denver International Airport weren’t really great and it made me think that maybe no one really cares once the contract is signed.

I’ll start with Denver: the connection quality was generally very spotty. I was able to connect to the network fine but I wasn’t able to browse reliably; pages would simply not get rendered or requests would go into the ether. The very positive thing I won’t deny is that wi-fi at DIA is free after you watch a 30-second ad. The other tradeoff is that there’s an obtrusive iframe stuck to the top of every web page which includes links to the airport’s site, the concourse maps, and a Google search box (hi, affiliate bucks!) Not horrible for free, but could be better.

Midway’s was much worse. I’m not sure why Chicago has a hard time with airport-related tech; their official site still sucks hard and so does the wi-fi. The first caveat is that it’s not free. It’s operated by Boingo and costs… well, I don’t know how much it costs because the login page was broken all day when I wanted to use it. The problem was that the domain boingo.aero (first and only .aero I’ve seen in the wild) was offline. I called their customer service and was told that their techs were “working on it.” That’s great. In the meantime there was no error message, no nothing but a broken JavaScript redirect on a login page.

But the customer support person I spoke with did ask if I wanted to sign up for service. Great timing.

For business people having a connection is imperative, and I guess that’s why 3G and EDGE USB network sticks are popular. But for those of us who don’t want to pony up the bucks it’s a disappointing and unnerving experience. I mean, we were able to coordinate the security theater that is the TSA in short order but we can’t do free national airport wi-fi? Ooookay.

Posted in Technology

Dave Walls November 24, 2008, 1:07 pm

I’ll add my .02 :

Even though I usually end up at the crappy last gate in the farthest terminal, I’ve noticed that the airports offering free wi-fi are, oddly enough, the fastest and best. I still subscribe to Boingo (a lifesaver if you fly frequently), but airports like Charlotte, which have fast, free internet, for me, seem to be the most reliable.

Until my job offers one of those network “sticks”, I share your pain.

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