While using the internet on a long-distance flight isn’t new, SpaceX’s Starlink leverages the latest technology to provide a better experience with higher speed and fewer connection issues. In-flight internet can often be expensive, so there could be a concern that this might be reserved for first-class passengers. However, the first major airline to announce it will use Starlink has good news about the cost.
Of course, the internet originates on Earth, so a ground connection is needed to relay internet requests through the satellite to the end user’s Starlink dish. However, since some Starlink satellites can communicate between themselves, an internet-connected satellite can share the relay with those that are no longer within range of a ground station. Eventually, a large web of satellites should be able to enjoy consistently fast speeds and solid connections from anywhere in the world.
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Starlink signed its first major airline, Hawaiian Airlines, in April 2022, making it possible to access the internet while flying between the continental U.S. and Hawaii. At present, Starlink offers connection speeds of up to 100-megabits-per-second download and 20-megabits-per-second, which is a very nice speed, good enough for streaming video and mobile gaming. Internet relayed through other satellites could be slightly slower. However, this will continually improve as more Starlink satellites are deployed, which will continue for quite some time. Only a fraction of the entire fleet is in operation currently. While cost could vary from airline to airline, Hawaiian Airlines offers this service at no charge, setting the standard for others to follow. That means the in-flight internet from Starlink is currently fast and free.
How Starlink Works In-Flight
Although Starlink began with stationary ground-based satellite dishes located at homes and businesses, SpaceX designed Starlink to be usable when in motion and even flying at high altitudes. Starlink could someday be added to vehicles and trains. However, its usefulness on long overseas flights is much more critical. When sitting in a restricted room of an aircraft, the ability to enjoy the distraction of the internet can be quite a relief. Naturally, business travelers will get back what would otherwise be lost hours of work while flying.
A flight that offers Starlink internet connects to a satellite that relays data to and from ground-based internet stations when flying over land, just like using Starlink from home. Once a flight is over the ocean or in rural areas without access to a satellite with a terrestrial broadband internet connection, the airplane can still receive internet via Starlink’s growing network of satellites that have laser communication capability. As more and more airlines sign on to SpaceX’s Starlink internet, taking a long flight will be a more pleasant experience, staying connected to what is happening with friends, family and coworkers throughout the trip.