Wifi-onboard

At last! I can surf the world wide web at 35,000 ft

For a self-proclaimed social media addict, a couple of hours without an Internet connection is pretty terrible. So when I boarded an Emirates BOEING 777-300ER Jet, en route to Colombo, I resigned myself (as always) to deal with Pinterest-withdrawal syndrome…until they announced the free Wi-Fi available on board!

 

Since late last year, Emirates offers 10MB of data for FREE on all their A380 aircrafts (minus three planes which they are working on) and select Boeing 777s. If you want more than 10MB, you can purchase an additional 500MB for 1USD. Apparently, their goal is to make Wi-Fi accessibility something that is taken for granted, like the entertainment system.

 

At present, seven other airlines, apart from Emirates offer free Wi-Fi, including JetBlue, Norwegian, Turkish Airlines, Air China, Philippine Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Nok Air. While approximately 50 other airlines offer Wi-Fi at a cost. More details on some of those airlines can be found here and here. Several others, including SriLankan Airlines have promised to deliver free rights to roam the Web while up in in the air in the near future.

 

But Wi-Fi in the air isn’t just for people who constantly need to be connected.

 

Take what happened to Justine Sacco. The Communications Director for IAC, a media conglomerate that includes College Humor, Vimeo, OKCupid, Tinder among many others, tweeted the following just before boarding her flight.

Justine-Sacco-Tweet

When she turned her cellphone back on, once landing in Cape Town, “#HasJustineLandedYet” had become the #1 trending twitter topic while she slept peacefully on board. Her tweet had been re-tweeted several times, she was fired from her job, publicly shamed and basically had to go into hiding. To-date, over an year and a half later, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet is in use.

 

In February this year, TIME did a comprehensive story on not just Justine Sacco, but others like her who had faced similar situations of public shaming. And Sacco isn’t alone in her situation. Viralnova did a round up of 10 other Twitter users who suffered after accidentally tweeting something they shouldn’t.

 

But in the case of Justine Sacco, if she had Wi-Fi access to check her Twitter feed while on an 11-hour flight to Cape Town in December 2013, she may have had a chance to save her career and her dignity.

 

However, is Wi-Fi on board safe? Given what we know and what we see (albeit somewhat exaggerated in some instances) in movies, won’t a plane full of passengers connecting to the Web give easy access to hackers and maybe even terrorists, jeopardising the safety of the plane?

 

While the topic has been debated upon often, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last month, claiming that inflight Wi-Fi could be accessed remotely, compromising the plane’s avionics, especially the Next Generation Air Transportation System that’s due to be implemented by 2025.

 

WIRED UK, claims that, ‘The report said that the FAA was “taking steps” to align its cyber security policies, adding that “a working group expects to complete a draft by September 2015 that reflects the restructuring of IT infrastructure”. The FAA, along with other aviation agencies, runs simulated cyber security attacks to try to prevent problems and work out its response. More on the report can be found here. And here. And a copy of the report can be found here.

Just a couple of days ago, we saw the social media users unite with Tahera Ahmad, an associate chaplain at the Northwestern University when she faced discrimination on a United Airlines Flight to DC. #unitedfortahera
Find out more about what happened here.

 

So it might not be as simple as we think. But since the report recommends a more comprehensive approach to safeguarding planes against such attacks, you can most likely expect a post from me, the next time I’m at 35,000 feet.

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