Travel

Holy cow: Testing JSX’s blazing-fast Starlink Wi-Fi with Apple’s new MacBook Pro

The future is here, especially if you’re flying on JSX.

The carrier, which operates 30-seat regional jets in an extra-spacious configuration from private airport terminals, recently became the launch customer for Starlink’s inflight internet service.

Starlink, an arm of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, provides high-speed satellite internet access in over 50 countries worldwide. While the company’s customers range from individual homeowners to the military, perhaps the most exciting development for travelers is Starlink’s deployment on commercial airplanes.

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As a travel reporter and self-professed “techie,” I’ve been itching to put Starlink’s inflight service to the test. That opportunity came on Tuesday during a special demo flight from JSX’s Dallas headquarters.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

(TPG paid for all expenses during this trip, except for the demonstration flight, which was offered exclusively to members of the media and wasn’t available to purchase.)

And now that I’m back on terra firma, I’ll sum up my experience in just two words: “holy cow.”

Seamless login

The fun began the minute I climbed the stairs to board the 21-year-old Embraer E145, registered N961JX.

I quickly spotted the Starlink antenna radome on the top of the jet, and I was surprised by how small it was. Supposedly, the installations are so simple that it takes just eight hours in the hangar to add the Wi-Fi service to each jet, JSX CEO Alex Wilcox told TPG.

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ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

After settling into the comfy seat, I started unpacking my uncharacteristically heavy backpack. (For most quick trips, I just pack a laptop, some toiletries and a change of clothes.)

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

But for this assignment, out came a whopping five devices, including:

After all, what better way to test internet performance than by streaming content simultaneously across multiple devices?

That said, I kept streaming content running in the background on all of my devices and decided to put the new MacBook Pro through the paces.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

My first order of business was connecting each device to the internet, which ended up being much easier than I expected.

I simply turned on the Wi-Fi signal on each device while still parked on the tarmac (internet access is available from gate to gate) and selected the “Free JSX Starlink WiFi” network.

From there, I was online. No landing pages, no complicated sign-in procedure and no additional terms and conditions to accept.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Supposedly, Starlink doesn’t allow third-party landing pages with its Wi-Fi service.

That’s not a problem for JSX, since the service is free for everyone, and the carrier already has terms and conditions covering Wi-Fi usage already written into the contract of carriage that you accept when you book a ticket, according to Wilcox.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Once I got all my devices connected, it was time to see how Starlink performed.

4 simultaneous speed tests

Before running some real-world tests, I decided to pull the data — “just how fast was Starlink Wi-Fi anyway,” I wondered.

So I fired up four out of my five devices (I filmed the experiment on one of my phones) and loaded Speedtest.net. What followed was nothing short of outstanding.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Each device measured download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. Upload speeds, which hovered between five and 20 Mbps, were just as impressive.

But the real show-stopper was the ping, a measure that generally indicates how much buffering you’ll experience during data-intensive tasks. The ping clocked in between 28 and 150 milliseconds in the four tests — an incredible feat for inflight Wi-Fi.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Just by the measure of these speeds alone, I could quickly tell that this would be my fastest inflight internet experience ever.

(The runner-up is Viasat’s satellite service, which you’ll find on many American Airlines, Delta and JetBlue planes, among other carriers. While Viasat’s download speeds can sometimes approach 100 Mbps, the upload speed and ping are substantially better on Starlink.)

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

And even if these numbers mean absolutely nothing to you, here are some more realistic data points that confirmed my hypothesis — Starlink inflight internet is one of, if not the fastest satellite internet providers there is.

Streaming ‘The Last of Us’

First up, streaming HBO’s hit drama “The Last of Us.” I opened a Safari tab and navigated to the HBO Max website to load the first episode of season one.

I made sure to clear the cache and browser data before starting the test, and despite starting with a blank slate, I was streaming the show in just five seconds!

Just to make sure this wasn’t a fluke, I scrubbed through different parts of the episode, and the video stream buffered instantly.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

For all intents and purposes, streaming on JSX was just as fast as streaming on my Verizon Fios Gigabit connection back home.

And while I didn’t have much time to watch the entire show, I was very impressed by the super sharp Liquid Retina XDR display on the new MacBook Pro, which offers a much-upgraded screen compared to my current go-to machine, the 13.6-inch MacBook Air.

Joining a Zoom meeting

My next order of business was joining a Zoom meeting.

Most commercial airlines block Zoom (and other online meeting services, such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams) to conserve bandwidth, but JSX is different from the rest.

It took just seconds for the Zoom client to load on my MacBook Pro, and instead of joining a meeting hosted by colleagues on the ground, I instead decided to start a conference with Chris Dong, a friend (and former TPG reporter) who was on the plane with me.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Both the video and audio worked perfectly on both ends for much of the meeting. There were a few seconds where we experienced some lag, but by and large, the in-air teleconference was a success.

I then followed it up with a FaceTime call to my wife back home in New York. The quality of the FaceTime call was even better than the Zoom, and my wife had no trouble hearing and seeing me.

While Starlink proved that it can support inflight audio and video calls, there’s still an unanswered question as to whether it’s appropriate from to participate in a teleconference while flying.

No matter your perspective, JSX’s Wilcox teased that the carrier is on its way to becoming the first to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for inflight videoconferencing.

Installing the TPG App

In case you missed it, TPG has an iOS app that puts the world of points and miles in your pocket. Track your points, plot your redemptions and learn more about the travel industry with the TPG App.

I deleted the app before the flight so that I could test how long it would take to redownload the 93.5-megabyte file.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

While many airlines block such large downloads, JSX and Starlink encourage them. After all, why discourage such downloads when they take just 10 seconds and there are just (a max of) 30 passengers on each jet?

Downloading Beyoncé’s Renaissance

With music streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music, you either need fast enough inflight Wi-Fi or pre-downloaded songs to listen to your music while flying.

While I had no problem streaming Beyoncé’s latest hits without any lag, I wanted to take the test a step further — could I prepare for my next United flight by downloading the entire “Renaissance” album now?

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

(United’s Wi-Fi is invariably much slower and less usable than JSX’s.)

While the answer is a resounding yes, this was the slowest test I performed. It took about 90 seconds to download the entire album via Spotify — definitely slower than it would’ve been had I performed the same test back home.

Sending an email

At this point, I was fully confident that sending an email — one of the least data-intensive tasks there is — wouldn’t be an issue.

But, to round out the test, I figured I’d give it a try. I loaded Outlook, drafted a short message and hit send.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Less than 10 seconds later, my phone was buzzing. I had just received an email with the following subject line: “testing the fastest-ever inflight Wi-Fi I’ve seen!”

Bottom line

There are no two ways about it. JSX’s new Starlink Wi-Fi is the fastest and most reliable inflight internet I’ve ever experienced.

The service worked perfectly throughout my testing, and my fellow travelers all seemed to agree with my conclusion, too.

JSX is the first carrier to offer Musk’s internet service, but it certainly won’t be the last. Hawaiian Airlines and airBaltic have already confirmed that Starlink will be installed in the coming months.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

So long as Starlink can maintain this level of reliability, I’d love to see more airlines consider installing the service in the future, especially as competitive pressure mounts in the U.S. for carriers to offer fast and free Wi-Fi.

Plus, JSX has demonstrated that Starlink works well on small Embraer jets, so fingers crossed that the major regional carriers replace their outdated Gogo air-to-ground connection in favor of Starlink.

After the demo flight, I met with a handful of JSX executives at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. When I got there, I connected to the public Wi-Fi network to upload my content.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Despite spending over two hours there, the upload only progressed by about 20%. As I exited the museum to head home, I did some quick mental math.

Had I instead left my phone in the air on the JSX Starlink plane, all of my content would’ve uploaded a whopping ten times faster!

Now that’s impressive.

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