By Mark Chesnut
You’ve got a layover that’s just long enough to check e-mail on something larger than your cell phone, but you have no VIP club membership handy and you don’t feel like paying as much as $20 to access Wi-Fi for just an hour or two. What to do?
In a handful of airports, you can get connected for free. I call these “angel airports” for providing a valuable, much-appreciated — and free — amenity, which makes it easier to stay productive while away from home. Airports with free Wi-Fi include Boston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando International, Portland, Ore., Rochester, N.Y., Seattle and Tampa. Even the small-but-modern airport in Managua, Nicaragua, offers free Wi-Fi. Airport websites usually mention if they have free Wi-Fi, although it may be hidden so deeply inside the site that you may not see it.
Still, a lot of airports don’t give it away for free. Travelers then are left with a few different options for getting online at the cheapest possible price (or, if they’re lucky, for free). Among the strategies:
• Sit near the entrance to an airline VIP club, with the hope of using the club’s free Wi-Fi (if it’s not password-protected).
• Find a Starbucks that’s large enough to have its own free Wi-Fi. Stake a place in or near the lobby of an on-site airport hotel, where Wi-Fi may be offered.
• Bite the bullet and either pay for temporary access via a service like Boingo, or a day pass to an airline club (which at least will also include some free refreshments and a quiet ambiance).
When presented with a choice of connecting in an airport that does have free Wi-Fi versus one that doesn’t, the lure of a connection that’s totally gratis may be strong enough to change travel plans at the time of booking. After all, do we really exist if we’re not visible online at every waking hour?
Mark Chesnut is a freelance writer, editor and publisher of LatinFlyer.com, which focuses on travel to Latin America. He checks his e-mail way too often.