A couple of months ago, Virgin Atlantic launched its first trans-Atlantic Wi-Fi service on its brand spanking new 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the first in the fleet which travels the London Heathrow to Boston route. It was kicked off with a bang too, hosting dance band Rudimental for a live streamed gig while in the air.
Now Pocket-lint has savoured its merits too as part of Virgin Atlantic's Festive Flight where, in partnership with Microsoft, every passenger of flight VS11 on 21 December received a free quad-core Windows 8.1 tablet, got to chat to Santa through their new device, and met the man himself.
It is the first Wi-Fi service the company has offered that operates throughout the whole of the journey from the UK to the US - other planes in its domestic fleet have wireless internet connectivity, but this is the first that works internationally. It is not the last though as we were told that all of its planes will be fitted with the technology by 2017. That's why we were keen to give it a whirl to find out if it puts the brand at an advantage when we look at booking flights in future.
To be honest, the 787 Dreamliner is already big enough draw. Its Vera in-flight entertainment system, coupled with the widescreen touch displays with decent picture performance, is excellent and, we feel, class leading in choice and immediacy of use. And we love the new dynamic mood lighting system, which changes hue based on passenger research to best suit the mood and well-being on travellers in different stages of the flight. But to offer exConnect KU band Wi-Fi in collaboration with Panasonic and T-Mobile, and fairly inexpensively, for a whole long(ish) haul flight is of great appeal.
An internet pass costs £14.99 for 24 hours access or the duration of the flight, which is roughly the same as you'd expect to pay in many hotels. And it can be used on laptops, tablets or smartphones.
We were told that all of its planes will be fitted with the technology by 2017
It's as easy to connect to as a home network or any other Wi-Fi hotspot and you will never really notice any difference to, say, connecting to a personal Mi-Fi device. At times the speed of data transmission and reception might dip or rise depending on the satellite connection, specifically during the point it disconnects from one and connects to another, but that seems to happen less often than you would think - in our case at least. And even during the lowest peaks we were still able to browse the internet and send and receive emails.
Indeed, in a brief test using the Speed Test app on an iPad, we found that we got signals of up to nearly 4Mbps and even our lowest reading was 1.69Mbps. We've stayed in hotels and had to post onto Pocket-lint using slower Wi-Fi than that.
We also tried a number of different internet based applications to see what was possible using the system. While it's not designed for the purpose, we even found that Netflix streaming worked, and to a reasonably high picture standard too. Oddly, because we seemed to be picking up a German server at the time, the service offered mainly German titles, but it worked which was a great example.
We also tried Facetime to less success. Another passenger we talked to was able to use Facetime well to call his family, but it didn't work for us. It rang but failed during the connection stage. That could of course be down to the recipient's end rather than ours though, so we'll keep an open mind on that one as there's no reason it wouldn't work if we perhaps persisted.
We didn't have any trouble with iMessage texts or sending large picture files though. And we could even easily post big pictures using the content management system of this very website.
In short, we could do pretty much everything we would want to, especially work-related, while in the air. And that would definitely be a bonus when we choose which airline to fly us to the States. Our only dismay at present is that, free tablet giveaways and surprise visits by Father Christmas aside, it's not often we find ourselves Boston-bound; 2017 therefore can't come soon enough.