The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

That $1,200 in-flight WiFi bill was terrifyingly real

A jet takes off at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Airline horror stories are about a dime a dozen these days, especially since charges for basic conveniences during a flight have become the new normal.

But in-flight WiFi? It’s already considered an add-on few are willing to shell out 30 bucks to enjoy. So this Canadian man’s story of discovering that his already expensive WiFi bill was even more ridiculous is a little, well horrifying.

Earlier this month on a recent Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore, Jeremy Gutsche, who is the CEO of innovation consulting company Trend Hunter, bought $29 WiFi for his trip.

Unsurprisingly it was painfully slow, but the real shocker came when he received the final bill for a whopping $1,171.46. That is, $1,142.47 in overage data charges.

Let this be a lesson to us all: Read the fine print.

To be fair, Gutsche knew that he had only paid for 30 MB, which is essentially very little data.

In a blog post he calculated that the charges stemmed from visiting 155 pages of mostly e-mail and downloading a 4 MB Power Point presentation, which he said took an hour on the sluggish connection.

“That doc probably cost me $100 to upload, so I hope my team liked it. I actually even emailed them a warning that my upload was taking a while,” wrote Gutsche in a post on his Trend Hunter blog. “That email probably cost me $10. And yes, the pricing per mb was disclosed on sign-up, but I bought the $30 package, slept through most the flight, and really didn’t think I’d end up a thousand bucks past the limit.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Singapore Airlines said on Monday that it contacted OnAir, the company that provides its WiFi service, about Gutsche’s issues. But Gutsche said that he still had to pay up.

Not everyone is sympathetic however.

A few readers who commented on Gutsche’s blog post pointed out that he not only agreed to the terms and conditions of the Internet service up front, but he used a large amount of data despite knowing that it would cost him more.

“I’ve used the internet (OnAir) on SQ flights before, and they make it VERY clear what your usage limit is, then give you the option to either A) be disconnected when your quota runs out (which is the default) or B) continue and accept overages. Which means you clicked the latter,” wrote Dan Murray on Facebook. “And at $1 per MB, you used 1.1GB, which isn’t “checking email” it’s watching a movie (or having your iCloud backup automatically running in the background?)”

Gutsche has said he didn’t watch a movie because of how painfully slow the Internet connection was — though he wished that he had.

And in an interview with the WSJ, he says that just because airlines can charge exorbitant prices for Internet access, doesn’t mean they should.

“Just because someone agrees to terms and conditions doesn’t mean those terms are ethical,” Gutsche told the paper. “I think the overage model is excessive and I can imagine someone like my mom, or a family, or a backpacker going aimlessly over.”

Of course, as the CEO of a tech company with a clearly active travel schedule, Gutsche isn’t pinching pennies on $30 in flight WiFi, unlike about 94 percent of casual travelers who treat it like a luxury they rarely indulge in.