I wrote this sitting in Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau airport, while using the free wifi they have there. Perhaps you might think that free wifi at an airport isn’t worthy of note; after all, if there’s anywhere where free wifi might be perfectly positioned, it’s at an airport…
Airports have a large influx of business people, who can use wifi to catch up on work as they wait for their planes. College students can do the same, and younger people can surf the internet. Families can check their travel plans, people can make sure their loved (or slightly-loved) ones will be there to meet them at their destination. The uses are endless. And the standard objections to free wifi: bandwidth hogs, people dropping in just for the internet, hackers using wifi as a launch site for attacks, don’t really apply at airports. There’s only a limited amount of time any one user will be online, typically around an hour or so at most I’d guess (unless there’s a delayed flight). I can’t imagine anyone flying through an airport just for the free wifi, and launching an attack while surrounded by some of the most jumpy security personnel, air marshalls and who knows who else seems a little silly.
All those points being made then, I’ve found it really strange since wifi became popular that there aren’t more airports offering it for free. Here’s the list of airports I can remember and whether they offer wifi for free.
Montreal – unlimited, free
Calgary – limited, free
Winnipeg – unlimited, free
Vancouver -unlimited, free
BWI – paid
San Diego – free, unlimited
San Francisco – free, unlimited
London (Heathrow) – paid
I may be checking out some European airports later this year and adding to the list. So what, if anything, does this tell us about a city? Having actually spent time in all these cities, I believe that an airport’s wifi is a good indicator of the political temperament of a city. Specifically, cities that offer free wifi are more left-wing than cities that do not. Vancouver is a semi-exception, as despite the fact that it’s on the west coast, it’s had a right-wing government for a long time. Calgary, as a little more right-wing than some places, has free internet but it has a timer on it. San Francisco, unsurprisingly, has free internet, but DC (also unsurprisingly) does not.
So perhaps next time you arrive at a city, check the wifi on your way in, and you’ll know what to expect!