Staying connected while in China can be difficult, due to their firewall where they block many sites, including Google. This is something you should be able to get around with a VPN, though even so, the experience sometimes isn’t seamless.
Historically this firewall hasn’t been limited to on the ground, but has included flying over Chinese airspace. So if you’ve flown a US airline to/from China, you’ll notice that the inflight wifi historically hasn’t worked over Chinese airspace.
While I don’t know the exact details of what the agreement looks like, I’ve heard for a while that China has granted a waiver for about a dozen airlines to offer wifi service over China. As far as I know these airlines don’t have to give the government access to information, so the wifi experience should be seamless.
It looks like we’re now seeing those changes kick in, because American will be offering wifi for the full duration of flights to/from China starting August 8, 2016. Per a notice that went out to employees:
Wi-fi available on all flights over China beginning August 8. Wi-fi restrictions over Chinese airspace have been lifted. We are in the process of updating all wi-fi enabled aircraft to/from China and expect this service to be available for the full duration of the flight beginning August 8, 2016.
This is of course great news. The old system wasn’t a deal breaker, since you basically just didn’t have wifi for the first or last couple of hours of the flight. Still, it’s nice to have uninterrupted wifi on these longhaul flights.
Cathay Pacific is also subject to this new waiver by the Chinese government, which means we might finally see them introduce more widespread wifi. Since so many of their flights to/from Europe spend hours and hours over Chinese airspace, they haven’t historically bothered with wifi. Cathay Pacific’s new A350s have wifi, so let’s hope this trend continues.
Inflight wifi is one of the amenities I value most, so it’s great to see this expanding over Chinese airspace. This is especially useful for flights between Asia and Europe, given how many hours they spend over Chinese airspace.
I recently flew China Eastern, which is the first Chinese airline to offer inflight wifi. While the wifi was slow and I had to use a VPN to access most sites, it was great to be able to stay connected while inflight.