Is Airplane Wi-Fi Safe to Use? Quick 2024 Guide

Danica Djokic
Danica Djokic Writer
Updated on: May 29, 2024
Fact Checked by Eric Goldstein
Danica Djokic Danica Djokic
Updated on: May 29, 2024 Writer

Airplane Wi-Fi, like any public Wi-Fi network, isn’t exactly safe. Bad actors can intercept your online activities and get ahold of your personal information, and you may even become a target of a malware attack.

Luckily, there are several ways to protect your Wi-Fi traffic. I spent weeks researching the best methods and have covered them in-depth in this guide.

I personally like using a VPN the most — it’s an extremely efficient way to secure your Wi-Fi data, and it’s also very easy to use. My favorite VPN to use on Wi-Fi networks is ExpressVPN, as it’s super secure and ultra-fast.


What Are the Risks of Using Airplane Wi-Fi?

Data Interception

Public Wi-Fi networks are often unencrypted, which means anyone connected to the network can potentially see everything you’re doing online while connected to it. That means everything from the sites you visit to the information you transmit, including personal details, could potentially be seen by others on the same network.

Cybercriminals have the ability to easily intercept unencrypted data and gain access to your personal information. With the right tools, they can eavesdrop on your online activities and collect sensitive data, like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, banking details, emails, and other personal information. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, or unauthorized access to your online accounts.

Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks

This is when hackers position themselves between a device and the connection point to intercept the data in transit. This may happen in any type of online communication, such as email, social media, or web surfing, which means they capture and read the content and potentially gather sensitive information such as login credentials, personal data, or confidential business information.

Hackers can also actively manipulate the data in transit. For instance, they may inject malicious code into legitimate packets of information, alter the content of the communication, or reroute the data to a different destination. This allows them to control your communication or transactions, all without your knowledge. For example, a hacker alters the communication between you and your bank’s website. When you attempt to transfer money to a certain account, the attacker changes the destination account details to their own.

Malware Distribution

Cybercriminals can easily exploit vulnerabilities in airplane Wi-fi networks, which leads to potential cyber-attacks.

One common method attackers employ is by creating fake Wi-Fi hotspots, often named to mimic legitimate services to trick you into connecting. Once you do, the hacker installs malware on your device — a virus designed to damage the system, spyware meant to steal personal data, or ransomware aiming to lock users out of their devices until a ransom is paid.

Moreover, attackers insert malicious code or pop-ups into legitimate web pages accessed through the network. For instance, while you’re trying to access the airport’s official page for flight information, an attacker modifies the page in real-time to include a malicious pop-up. This pop-up prompts you to download an ‘essential update’ or ‘free software’, which in reality is a malware designed to infiltrate your system.

Packet Sniffing Attacks

Hackers don’t necessarily need to target you specifically to steal your data. On shared public Wi-Fi networks, many people send and receive data packets simultaneously. This allows hackers to capture a lot of data as it is transmitted over the network, typically with the help of software. Since the data on an unsecured network is often unencrypted, the hacker, with the help of custom software or readily available tools, analyzes the captured packets relatively easily to extract individual pieces of information.

These packets contain a wealth of personal information. For example, if you’re shopping online, the packets might include your name, address, and credit card details. If you’re checking your emails, they might include your email address, password, and the content of your emails.

Wi-Fi Network Vulnerabilities

Like any software, the firmware that runs Wi-Fi routers can have bugs or security gaps that cybercriminals exploit. These vulnerabilities allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to the network, intercept or alter the data being transmitted over it, or even take control of the network itself.

If successful, the cybercriminal is able to engage in malicious activities, such as monitoring all traffic passing through the router and capturing sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or credit card numbers. Also, they may inject malicious code into the data stream, redirect users to fake websites, or use the compromised router as a launching point for further attacks.

7 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airplane Wi-Fi

Airplane Wi-Fi isn’t exactly safe, but there are ways to protect your online traffic and private information when you need an internet connection in the air. Here are some things you can do to reduce the chance of your data being compromised:

1. Use a VPN

7 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airplane Wi-Fi

A quality VPN has encrypted servers located all over the world. When you connect to a server, all of your data is routed through an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. So, if you’re logging into your email while using a VPN, your username and password aren’t just sent directly over the network; instead, they’re encrypted and sent through this secure tunnel. On top of that, the encryption scrambles your data (including the websites you visit) and makes it unreadable, which means that even if a hacker intercepts it, it would be extremely difficult to decipher it while connected to airplane Wi-Fi.

Quick summary of the best VPNs for airplane Wi-Fi 2024:

  • 🥇1. ExpressVPN — Best overall VPN for securing your data on airplane Wi-Fi in 2024 with super-fast speeds.
  • 🥈2. Private Internet Access — High-end security for airplane Wi-Fi with great privacy + an excellent ad blocker.
  • 🥉3. CyberGhost VPN — Great VPN for beginners (has intuitive apps + good automation features).

2. Install Antivirus Software

7 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airplane Wi-Fi

Antivirus software adds another layer of defense while connected to airplane Wi-Fi. It detects, quarantines, and removes malware from your device and offers real-time protection against threats — so, even if someone tries to infect your device via the airplane Wi-Fi network, a good antivirus (like Norton 360) detects and blocks it.

Antiviruses also block unsafe websites, thwarting hackers’ attempts to redirect you to fraudulent sites. Some antivirus software includes a firewall to monitor and restrict unauthorized network access, which minimizes the risk of certain Man-in-the-Middle attacks.

3. Use a Password Manager

7 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airplane Wi-Fi

A password manager protects your credentials from being stolen via airplane Wi-Fi. Great password managers (such as 1Password) auto-fill credentials, which means it’s less likely that a hacker could intercept your keystrokes through a keylogger or similar spying software. They also provide phishing protection and stop fake sites from triggering auto-fill. Plus, if you need to share sensitive information with others while on public Wi-Fi, password managers often offer secure methods to do so.

4. Limit Sensitive Activities

If you’re not using a security tool, I recommend avoiding any sensitive transactions, such as online banking, shopping, or accessing email or social media accounts since hackers can easily exploit potential vulnerabilities on an airplane Wi-Fi network, intercept your data, and steal your personal information.

5.  Disable Auto-Connect

Auto-connecting to Wi-Fi networks can potentially expose you to cyber risks, particularly on public networks such as airplane Wi-Fi networks. This feature might inadvertently connect your device to a rogue network set up by cybercriminals intending to siphon off your data.

That’s why it’s important to disable your device’s auto-connect settings, at least while you’re traveling. To turn this off on iOS, navigate to Settings > Wi-Fi and toggle off the Ask to Join Networks option. For Android users, go to Connections, select Wi-Fi, click Advanced, and switch off Auto connect.

Once your flight’s over, remember to ‘forget’ the airplane network to avoid your device automatically reconnecting. To do this, go to the Wi-Fi settings on your device, select the specific network, and tap Forget it.

6. Only Use Secure Sites

7 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airplane Wi-Fi

When browsing on airplane Wi-Fi, make sure to only visit websites that use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). The ‘S’ at the end of HTTP indicates that the website is secure, meaning it encrypts the data transferred between your browser and the site — this prevents hackers from intercepting the data in transit. Some browsers allow you to enable a setting that forces all websites to be loaded in HTTPS where possible. For instance, turn this option on in Chrome under Privacy and security.

7. Label the Network as a Public Network

Labeling airplane Wi-Fi as a Public Network tightens your device’s security settings. When a network is marked as public, features like file sharing, network discovery, or public folder sharing, which might be typically enabled on your home network, get automatically disabled. This makes your device less visible and less accessible to other devices on the same network. On Windows, you can choose between Home, Work, and Public networks, and on Mac, you’ll need to turn on Stealth Mode in the firewall settings to get similar benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to connect to a plane Wi-Fi?

Connecting to airplane Wi-Fi can be very risky, like with any public Wi-Fi. This is because cybercriminals can potentially access your data, spy on your online activities, steal your personal information, and install malware on your device.

To mitigate these risks, I recommend using a premium VPN to encrypt your data. My favorite VPN is ExpressVPN, as it’s very secure, very fast, and very easy to use.

Is airplane Wi-Fi fast enough for Netflix?

Airplane Wi-Fi, like any public Wi-Fi, is slower and less reliable compared to a typical home or office internet connection. But, with a good VPN, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to maintain a stable connection for streaming on Netflix.

If you want to secure your streaming in the air, consider a quality VPN — it encrypts all of your online activities while also maintaining very fast speeds.

Can I connect to airplane Wi-Fi using a free VPN?

Technically yes, but I don’t recommend it. All free VPNs come with limitations, such as a cap on your daily or monthly bandwidth that may prevent you from using the VPN for the entire flight. Also, free VPNs typically have slow speeds, which make streaming nearly impossible on airplane Wi-Fi, and some lack basic security features.

I always recommend getting an affordable VPN like ExpressVPN — it’s ultra secure, comes with useful extras like a malicious site blocker, and is the fastest VPN available.

Best VPNs for Airplane Wi-Fi in 2024 — Final Score:

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About the Author
Danica Djokic
Updated on: May 29, 2024

About the Author

Danica Djokic is a content writer at Safety Detectives. She has been writing SEO-optimized content for several years and specializes in cybersecurity, privacy, and online safety. With a passion for technology and a commitment to helping others stay safe online, Danica is dedicated to providing accurate and informative content that empowers readers to make informed decisions about their digital security. When she’s not writing about cybersecurity, Danica enjoys exploring the latest advancements in technology, reading, playing the piano, hiking, and enjoying the great outdoors.

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