Travelers face patchwork of free vs. paid Wi-Fi

Getting online while traveling has never been easier. Getting online for free is still hit-or-miss.
By JOSHUA FREED Published: April 29, 2012

Getting online while traveling has never been easier. Getting online for free is still hit-or-miss.

Travelers run into a patchwork of free vs. paid access as they trek from airports to planes to hotels. Speed also varies widely, from fast enough to stream a movie to just enough to send and receive email.

The good news: Free Internet at airports is becoming more common. San Francisco, Dallas and Minneapolis are adding free options after previously charging around $8 for access. Phoenix's international airport has long offered complimentary access.

Still, plenty of airports require travelers to whip out a credit card to get online, including the big ones in New York and Los Angeles. The agency that runs New York's three airports says it has no plans to offer free Wi-Fi. The exception is JFK's terminal 5, where JetBlue offers it.

On planes, Delta has Wi-Fi access on its domestic flights, and American and Southwest have added it across much of their fleets. United says it is adding Wi-Fi to its planes but the whole fleet won't be done until 2015. All of them charge something to get online, ranging from $2 for a mobile device on some flights to $18 to get a laptop online on long-haul flights.

Hotels vary in what they charge. Free Wi-Fi is common at midrange and lower-end motels outside of big cities. But service can cost $25 a day at New York hotels that already charge hundreds of dollars for a room.

User demand for Wi-Fi is soaring. Five years ago, people using Wi-Fi were business travelers with laptop computers. Now, 11-year-olds with Nintendos and iPods want it. More travelers aren't content to send a simple email — they're looking to download a whole movie. In high-definition.

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Will Rogers offers Wi-Fi

Will Rogers World Airport offers 20 minutes of free wireless Internet service in all public areas of the terminal including, ticketing, gates, restaurants, lounges and baggage claim.

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