Free Wi-Fi in airport lounges

Danny McPherson has written about Wi-Fi access in the “refugee camp” that is the SFO Red Carpet Club.

Having independently discovered last week that Red Carpet Club members could now get Internet access for free via T-Mobile, I was eager to get online in an airport without having to drop another $9.95 to T-Mobile…

Although I’m an elite flyer on United, I am a more elite flyer with American. The Admirals Club (American’s counterpart to the Red Carpet Club) has promoted their Internet access much better. Members all received multiple mailings, and guests who buy a day pass get a card with a code on it.

American partnered with MobileStar for access in the Admirals Club in the late 1990s. Until this year, the network continued to operate only as a T-Mobile hotspot. Now, the T-Mobile hot spot operates in parallel with the captive portal for the Admirals Club. Like the Red Carpet Club, all you need is a magic membership number:

To login, all you need is the United Mileage Plus number of the primary Red Carpet Club account holder [Ed note: In the American Admirals Club, it’s the AAdvantage number of the account holder]. Now, having long questioned the wisdom of a luggage tag that displays these numbers, be it a “hole-punched” Mileage Plus membership card, or a more obvious oval-shaped Red Carpet Club tag, I’m even more wary now…

Fortunately, the Admirals Club luggage tags don’t have AAdvantage numbers on them. They do have a bar code that I assume can be translated easily into an AAdvantage number by American employees. On the other hand, if somebody is in the club, you can look for a regular luggage tag. Even on the plane, I bet you could do worse than by looking for the right color luggage tag. I would be willing to bet that most people with black elite luggage tags (Executive Platinum) are also Admirals Club members, and the likelihood only increases if you find somebody with a million miler oval.

I’ve yet to explore how difficult it would be to exhaustive search for valid numbers, or if multiple logins are permitted at a given time, or how far outside of the Red Carpet Club these numbers are valid, or…

As to the last point, the numbers are almost certainly valid as long as you can get to an AP. Although it is possible to build a wireless network that attempts to determine location and restrict services to a certain geographic area, the cost is quite high.

My experience is that the signal goes quite a long distance. Even before I forked over the money for an Admirals Club membership, I used their networks frequently. As a non-member, I could almost always sit in a gate area near the entrance and use the network. (I am a long-time T-Mobile hot spot subscriber through my cell phone plan.) In Chicago, I would sit in the hallway joining the H and K concourses, which was especially nice because there were usually unoccupied power plugs. At Los Angeles, I could sit at gate 41 and get a weak signal.

In the past, I tested whether T-Mobile’s hot spot network would support multiple simultaneous logins, and it does not. I have not tested whether the same is true for the captive portal they run for the Admirals Club. I would be surprised if that were the case because club members are allowed to bring guests, and it is likely that travelers with the ability to pay for an airline club membership have friends and family members who also have their own devices.

Leave a Reply