07/15/2013 07:34 am ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Airplane Wi-Fi: Fly The Unconnected Skies

I find flying relaxing.

Yes, you read that right. Despite the frequent delays, the dirty airports, the intrusive TSA frisking, the cramped seats and the crying babies, I find flying relaxing.

That is, if the airplane isn't equipped with Wi-Fi.

Airplanes without an Internet connection are a refuge -- one of the last places I can be where it's possible for me to be completely disconnected. I can't read and respond to email. I can't constantly refresh my Twitter feed to make sure I'm not missing breaking news. And I can't distract myself by browsing Facebook or Instagram.

For those few hours, I'm forced to be cut off from the world that so many devices and services try to keep us connected to. Nobody can get in touch with me, and I can be alone (albeit along with the crying babies and other passengers) with my thoughts, a good book or the person next to me.

So I breathe a sigh of relief when I find that my flight doesn't have Wi-Fi, because the pressure to stay connected isn't there if I simply can't connect. And I'm always puzzled to find people complaining about their time on unconnected flights.

Sure, an airplane without an Internet connection can for some be a few hours of work lost. But I've tried to work on flights, and at 6 feet tall, I find that it's nearly impossible to type on a laptop. Add the distractions on a plane (like those babies I mentioned above), and it's difficult to concentrate on work.

We're spending an increasing amount of time connected. Americans in 2013 spend twice as much time online as they did in 2010, according to comScore. Part of that increase is driven by more mobile devices and tablets -- but it's also thanks to an increasing number of places where we can connect.

About 38 percent of domestic U.S. flights have Wi-Fi, according to, a site that allows people to book airplane tickets based on various happiness factors -- including, of course, Internet on board. And that number is expected to grow.

Wireless companies, for good reason, tout their large and fast data networks. Verizon says that its 4G LTE data network reaches over 90 percent of the U.S. population.

But a downside to this expansion of connectivity is that each time we're able to get online in a place that was previously not a hot spot, we lose something: an opportunity to reflect on the world around us, to be with our thoughts, or to truly connect with the person we're physically with, free of technological distraction.

I suspect this is among the reasons that the movement to unplug and disconnect is gaining momentum, with "Digital Detox" retreats growing in popularity and the "National Day of Unplugging" making national news.

Still, John Walton, the director of data at RouteHappy, said that in his experience, I'm not the norm -- he's never heard of anyone else preferring flights without Wi-Fi.

"There's a lot of chat about the sky being the one place where you can completely switch off, but I just don't buy it," said Walton. "You can't really switch off for your 12-hour flight if you know that you'll have 100 emails to deal with once you hit the ground. No matter how relaxing your in-flight experience is, having to triage your email while pelting through the airport is stressful."

I beg to differ. The email can wait. For now, it's just you and that book you've been wanting to read, your traveling companion or your thoughts.



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