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United Airlines Wi-Fi is Limited

Intro

Recently I took a nice long 12-hour flight with United Airlines from the US to Tel Aviv, Israel. I was excited when I learned I could purchase wi-fi during the long flight. What would I do to kill the time? Probably the same things I normally waste my time on like browsing Reddit and chatting on Discord.

Well, too bad you can't do either of those because they are blocked. I thought maybe I could get around it by installing OpenVPN from the Google Play Store and connecting to one of my remote servers. Nope, you can't access the Google Play Store either. So I can't install any games or other apps, can't chat, and can't browse Reddit.

I paid almost $30 for wi-fi access and I can't access any of the primary things that I wanted to access on my Android tablet:

  • Reddit
  • Discord
  • Google Play Store

Possible Workarounds

  • SSH - SSH access works and can be a workaround to reach things you can't reach directly.
  • SSH port forwarding - This should work if you have root access on your device. Unrooted Android devices cannot use Termux to do port forwarding though.
  • Nginx Reverse Proxy - Using SSH I tried setting up a reverse proxy on a remote server to reach reddit.com, and it worked...kind of. It lets you connect to Reddit using the proxy but there is JavaScript and other assets loaded from the page that will still try to reach to the reddit domain directly. One possibility could be to re-write the HTML so that any reddit URL gets pointed to your remote server. Maybe that's what I'll spend the rest of my time creating....
  • VNC - I'm not sure if they block VNC viewers, but if you have a remote server with VNC installed you might be able to use the remote machine to do work. One catch though is that you will need to have the VNC client installed before-hand because you can't access the Google Play Store.
  • OpenVPN - I think this solution would work if you had a remote server with OpenVPN installed. The same restriction with VNC would apply though. You must plan ahead and have the OpenVPN client installed already since the Google Play Store is blocked. There is no direct APK download for OpenVPN on their website.

Conclusion

If you are going to fly United Airlines, make sure you plan ahead. If I do it again, I will make sure to have my tablet prepared with all the applications before Ieave. In particular, I will probably install a VNC viewer and OpenVPN to try and leverage a remote server.

To be fair though, the internet connection itself over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is actually quite stable and fast for the things you can access.

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