Get Connected: Best and Worst Airports for Wi-Fi and Cell Signals

If you’re hoping to get some work done during your next layover, or pass the time by catching up on your favorite Netflix series, you may be in luck… or not. Depending on your airport, public Wi-Fi and cell connections are an uneven proposition that comes with the proviso: “Results may vary.” Some airports offer perfectly fast speeds that allow you to stream to your heart’s content; others will have you staring in disbelief at your never-ending webpage load times.

While you may not have much choice in airports, you do sometimes have options, especially if checking and answering email before, between, or after your flight is an absolute necessity. And it’s always helpful to know Wi-Fi availability ahead of time, to make arrangements and preserve your sanity. To that end, broadband testing company Ookla recently conducted a study of both Wi-Fi and cellular speeds at airports around the country, to give connected travelers the knowledge they need.

First off, cellular speeds are not necessarily faster than Wi-Fi, and are considerably slower in airports such as Denver (DEN) and Philadelphia (PHL). Which is good to know if you want to access Wi-Fi instead of using up your data plan. Other airports with faster Wi-Fi than cellular include Seattle-Tacoma (SEA), Dallas Forth Worth (DFW), Newark Liberty (EWR), Miami (MIA), Los Angeles, and both New York airports (JFK and LGA).

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Wi-Fi in those places is fast, or that cell service is slow. Cell download speeds at Detroit are a blazing 45.79 Mbps, more than twice the average of mobile speeds in the US of 21.77 Mbps. At the bottom of the list is LaGuardia in New York, with download speeds of 7.25 Mbps. Upload speeds at all airports vary a bit, but are nearer the national average of 8.54 Mbps. Here’s the list from fastest to slowest:

  1. Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)
  2. San Francisco (SFO)
  3. Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
  4. Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  5. Orlando (MCO)
  6. Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  7. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
  8. Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)
  9. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)
  10. Houston George Bush (IAH)
  11. Boston Logan (BOS)
  12. Denver (DEN)
  13. Newark Liberty (EWR)
  14. Philadelphia (PHL)
  15. Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)
  16. Miami (MIA)
  17. Charlotte (CLT)
  18. New York (JFK)
  19. Los Angeles (LAX)
  20. New York LaGuardia (LGA)

Wi-Fi speeds vary even more dramatically than cell. With Denver’s (DEN) download speed of 61.74 Mbps (and ever faster upload), feel free to email every single video and photo from your recent meeting while FaceTiming the home office. Kudos to Denver for recently investing $2.5 million in their airport Wi-Fi. But with Atlanta and its paltry 2.71 Mbps, you may want to wait until the next leg of your trip before pulling out your laptop. Here’s the list from best to worst:

  1. Denver (DEN)
  2. Philadelphia (PHL)
  3. Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  4. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
  5. Miami (MIA)
  6. New York LaGuardia (LGA)
  7. Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  8. Newark Liberty (EWR)
  9. New York (JFK)
  10. Houston George Bush (IAH)
  11. Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)
  12. Los Angeles (LAX)
  13. Charlotte (CLT)
  14. Boston Logan (BOS)
  15. Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)
  16. Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
  17. Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)
  18. San Francisco (SFO)
  19. Orlando (MCO)
  20. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)

The good news is that cell carriers improved their speeds at every one of these airports last year, which should only continue to get better going forward. Wi-Fi is another matter. Like Denver, some airports are investing in their Wi-Fi systems to better serve travelers. But others actually saw a drop in their Wi-Fi service last year. If you find yourself in an airport with poor wireless service, it may just be time to catch up on your magazine reading.

Photo credits:

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

Leave a Comment