The internet on my flight was terrible. Here’s what I did to get a refund

Jul 24, 2022

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“I’ll be on a flight during the early afternoon, but will be reachable by internet.”

It’s an assurance I gave my boss here at TPG when explaining my schedule for a recent Monday at work. Yes, I had a list of projects to finish, but — like many of my colleagues — I have plenty of experience getting work done at 30,000 feet.

Of course, such productivity requires an internet connection.

For the flight aboard Southwest Airlines from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to Tampa International Airport (TPA), I paid the customary, $8 flat fee.

Quickly, it became clear things would be spotty. Loading even a single webpage took forever. I pulled up an internet speed test on Google and the connection registered as “very slow.”

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southwest internet speed test
(Screenshot from Google)

“OK,” I thought. “Let’s see if it improves when we climb to a higher altitude.”

It never did. Occasionally I was able to load a page or two, only to have things slow right back down. The connection got so bad later in the flight that the speed test wasn’t even able to complete its scan.

southwest speed test
(Screenshot from Google)

If you’re a regular inflight Wi-Fi user, this is probably a familiar scenario for you, as the problems seem to transcend airlines and service providers.

Personally, I’ve had flights where I’ve been able to load webpages, upload an article for TPG and stream music in the background. Sometimes, you get flights like this one.

“Glitchy and uneven.” That’s how managing editor of news at TPG Clint Henderson described inflight internet. Clint says he’s had subscriptions over the years with Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and it works only about half the time. He’s had even worse luck trying to get internet working on international flights.

“I’ve tried to use international inflight Wi-Fi on numerous occasions,” he said. “Sometimes it’s fine, but it’s rarely great and a few times it’s been completely unusable.”

landing at TPA southwest
Final approach aboard Southwest Airlines at Tampa International Airport (TPA). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Making it right

While I knew I couldn’t get back that lost productivity, I figured it was worth at least trying to get my $8 back.

southwest customer complaint form
(Screenshot from Southwest Airlines)

After returning home, I went to Southwest’s customer service page and submitted a complaint about the internet speed. I clicked on “Inflight Experience.”

southwest customer complaint form
(Screenshot from Southwest Airlines)

I had to enter my Southwest account information and flight number and was able to explain what happened.

southwest customer complaint form
(Screenshot from Southwest Airlines)

It took a few days, but the airline came through. I actually noticed the $8 credit on my credit card before they got back to me.

southwest credit
(Screenshot from Citi)

Southwest emailed to apologize for the issue and noted that the airline is working on making onboard improvements.

“We’re in the process of upgrading WiFi equipment on our existing fleet with hardware capable of providing a significant improvement in speed and bandwidth up to ten times the current hardware onboard,” the email read.

TPG has reported on steps Southwest has taken in recent months to make these upgrades, a process explored by other major airlines. Some Southwest customers even got treated to free Wi-Fi earlier this year while the carrier tested out new service.

My colleagues have had mixed results when attempting to get a refund from an airline or an inflight internet service provider.

Henderson said he’s been able to get a refund from Gogo, a service provider, on a few occasions, but noted he finds the process a bit “cumbersome.”

TPG family travel writer Tarah Chieffi reported getting some pushback from the provider when her internet repeatedly disconnected on a recent flight. Ultimately, Tarah said Gogo offered her a one-time promo code to use for her next flight.

Credit card writer Ryan Smith had luck getting a refund from United Airlines when the internet worked for just a fraction of a six-hour flight earlier this year. Finnair also issued him a refund when the service was out for more than half of a flight from Helsinki Airport (HEL) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York.

Points and miles reporter Kyle Olsen said he, too, had luck getting a refund when the internet malfunctioned on United. He said Emirates, though, turned down his refund request.

southwest plane in air clouds
(Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

If you pay for internet and it doesn’t work for a significant portion of the flight — notably when you’re at cruising altitude — it’s at least worth taking a moment to submit a complaint. While not a guarantee, as I found, there’s at least a chance you’ll get back the money you paid for the service.

This could be especially critical on some airlines, where the pricing for internet browsing access is much higher.

Many airlines are looking into ways they can upgrade their inflight internet, but the reality for flyers on many carriers is that it’s not always reliable.

While there’s certainly a chance you may be able to be entirely productive with your work while cruising tens of thousands of feet in the air, for the time being, I wouldn’t promise your boss you’ll finish a critical project while at 30,000 feet — at least not yet.

Featured photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy.

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