15 Best Airports for Wi-Fi

Wireless internet service at airports is becoming more rule, less exception. Google has embraced the holiday spirit by distributing free Wi-Fi at 47 U.S. airports until January 15, 2010. And several airlines have begun to offer wireless service on board flights, ensuring that jetting won’t hinder your daily routine of stalking your exes on Facebook. In a recent survey by American Airlines and HP, 47% of business travelers indicated that Wi-Fi was more valued than food during their flight. People are looking to stay connected with the outside world, especially while in transit. While many airports now offer wireless, some are better at it than others.

1. Philadelphia International Airport – Check your Gmail while scarfing a cheesesteak — free wireless for diners within the food courts. Current students also have the privilege of free Internet access if they show their IDs at the Airport Information Counter. And on Saturdays and Sunday, wireless service is free for everyone. Outside of the airport, Philly once had plans for covering the entire city with wireless, until Earthlink dropped out of the agreement due to economic complications in February of 2008.

2. Phoenix Sky Harbor – No, it’s not a mystical village in a “Final Fantasy” game, but its connectivity is free and completely real. In 2005, Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon launched a free airport wireless project. Since then, Sky Harbor has never looked back. The signal is strong on both ends of the security checkpoint, near the shops, and at many of the gates. Given that both the mayor and city council collaborated on this project, residents hope that a citywide connection could soon be in the works.

3. Portland International Airport – Portland International Airport has free wireless within 70% of its complex, including some spots outside of secure areas. Users can log in with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) if top-secret info is required for their profession. Furthermore, the airport offers ample power outlets throughout its facilities, making it an ideal location for web surfers. But outside of the airport, Portland has become more disconnected. Recently, the city lost its free MetroFi wireless service due to financial complications.

4. McCarran International Airport – Feeling down after losing big in Vegas? Rest assured, McCarran Airport is there to lift your spirits (or at least give you the opportunity to continue gambling online). With seating and electrical outlets galore, McCarran is #3 on Forbes’ list of “Top Most-Wired Airports.” In addition, there are various free Wi-Fi hotspots within the city itself, distributed throughout shops and restaurants.

5. Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport – Way back in December 2003, Ithaca’s Tompkins Regional Airport was distributing free wireless through Clarity Connect services. Nowadays, Wi-Fi can be accessed anywhere within its terminals free of charge, no strings attached. For those hapless enough to leave their laptops at home, computer workstations are available with 15 minutes of free access near the café and gift shops.

6. JFK International Airport – While most airports of JFK’s size are rather stingy when it comes to Internet service, JetBlue’s 6th terminal offers free Internet access. This section of JFK is relatively new, having reached completion a little over a year ago on October 22, 2008. The new Wi-Fi section is consistent with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to increase connectivity throughout the city’s public areas.

7. Eastern Iowa Airport – Cedar Rapids- Free Internet is distributed throughout the Cedar Rapids airport thanks to Dynamic Broadband, which also delivers its services in parts of the Midwest, ensuring that the farmlands can easily be connected to the country’s urban centers. If you’re web-hungry enough to pull out your laptop while taking a ride, public buses around the airport offer Internet access to their riders as well.

8. Honolulu Airport – Pacific-bound travelers may find themselves at this intersecting crossroads of the States and the Orient. It may take some scouting, but Gate 13 at the Honolulu Airport offers free Wi-Fi. Those in the know say that you can also successfully “mooch” a signal near the Continental President’s Club and Northwest World Club across from Gate 12.

9. Denver International Airport – Jeppesen Terminal’s A, B, and C concourses distribute Wi-Fi in the vicinity free of charge. The city itself has its own share of free Wi-Fi hotspots in its busiest centers. As of April 17, 2006, the 16th Street Mall and Skyline Park of downtown Denver offers free Wi-Fi, thanks in large part to the city’s nonprofit Downtown Denver Partnership.

10. Louis Armstrong International Airport – Although this Louisiana airport is still trying to reach its original pre-Katrina service capacity, it has maintained free Wi-Fi in concourses A, B, C, and D. Originally, state laws prohibited the use of free broadband, but the city circumvented this ban after the state of emergency declared in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. With the state of emergency lifted, several groups like BellSouth moved to shut down the free service. Earthlink stepped up with a $15 million planned investment to take over the city’s service and build a network within a 15- to 20-mile radius. As of 2008, the Earthlink project was dead … but given current trends, there may be hope for its revival.

11. Harrisburg International Airport – For passengers, free access is as simple as selecting or typing “SARAA” as their preferred network. Left your laptop behind? Not a problem. The Harrisburg Airport offers plenty of Internet kiosks within its facilities, where you’ll be able to forward cute cat pictures before catching a red-eye. The city itself had aspirations for free Wi-Fi coverage as early as 2003 for 2nd Street and the Capitol complex. Unfortunately, logistics stymied these efforts, and they were put on hold.

12. San Antonio International Airport – Travelers can pick up a decent (and most importantly, free) Wi-Fi connection throughout most of the airport’s terminals. In 2007, the San Antonio City Council approved a plan to build a municipal wireless network throughout the city’s downtown areas, thanks to aid from AT&T.

13. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Sea-Tac is offering free wireless for the holiday season until January 15, 2010 (compliments of Google). Furthermore, the Port of Seattle is hoping to extend these benefits beyond the January 15 cutoff. We think that this is an appropriate plan for a place ranked #1 on Forbes’ “Top 30 Most-Wired American Cities”.

14. Orlando International Airport – With free Wi-Fi hotspots located within its parking lot and public areas, Orlando makes flight delays bearable. The city itself is ranked number four on Forbes’ “Top 30 Most-Wired American Cities” due to the high percentage of homes with high-speed Internet access and high Wi-Fi hotspots per capita.

15. Mineta San Jose International Airport – The NorCal vs. SoCal Wi-Fi debate rages on throughout the state of California. While there may be no clear winner, San Jose certainly gives NorCal a boost, thanks to its prestigious history as home to some of the world’s largest tech companies. As of May 30, 2008, Mineta San Jose Airport has offered free Wi-Fi services to travelers coming through the South Bay. Terminals A and C have excellent Wi-Fi offerings, with the exception of their baggage claim areas, which are currently dead zones.