Is airport Wi-Fi safe? Scams are more common than you think


By Heather

Travel & Tech Writer

Is airport Wi-Fi safe_

I’d never thought much about airport Wi-Fi safety until my friend exclaimed “I’ll NEVER use airport Wi-Fi again in my life after what happened!”

She’d just returned home from a fabulous vacation two weeks earlier, and her reaction surprised me.

I had helped her get set up with an eSIM data package to use on her trip, and she’d already reported it had worked perfectly – giving her a steady internet connection so she could use maps, driving directions, and social media.

So what had happened with the airport Wi-Fi?

I was floored when she told me her story.

She and her husband left Canada for an overseas adventure in Ireland, and they had already purchased a prepaid aloSIM data package, installed the eSIM on her phone, and completed the first few activation steps so it would automatically connect to a network after they arrived on vacation.

But the trouble happened before she arrived on vacation.

During a layover at a busy airport in the United States, my friend could no longer use her home data plan from Canada without risking roaming charges. It was also too early to use her overseas data package for Ireland, since she wasn’t in the correct country yet and wouldn’t be able to reach the Ireland networks.

Stuck without any data on her phone, she decided to just connect to the free airport Wi-Fi for a few hours while she and her husband waited to board their next flight. She checked email, scrolled on social media, and used a few apps while checking last-minute details for their trip.

After another long flight, they arrived in Ireland and their vacation began in earnest. Because she’d carefully followed the eSIM data package activation steps I provided, her international data package connected to a local network as soon as she switched off Airplane Mode.

My friend and her husband had a fantastic time in Ireland, and enjoyed having steady mobile data on her phone the whole time, so they were always able to check a map, request an Uber, pull up driving directions, or pop onto social media to share some of the gorgeous photos they were taking.

While travelling back to Canada, they had another layover at that same international airport in the United States. Once again, my friend hopped onto the free airport Wi-Fi network so she could pass the time while waiting to board their final flight home.

When they arrived back in Canada, their data roaming package was about to run out, but since eSIMs never expire, they left the Ireland eSIM installed on her phone so they could use it on their next trip. (They’re already talking about how much they can’t wait to return to the Emerald Isle.)

My friend had no idea anything was wrong for another two weeks.

Then she discovered that while she was on the free airport Wi-Fi, someone had hacked into an air travel loyalty account and stolen tens of thousands of points (worth thousands of dollars).

“It’s been a nightmare,” she told me, describing the hours of frustrating phone calls and long waits on hold as the air travel company looked into the situation. She’s going to get her points back, but not without a fight. “And they said this kind of thing happens all the time on airport Wi-Fi. I had no idea!”

The air travel company explained to my friend that there are scammers who hang out in busy airports specifically to commit crimes over the airport Wi-Fi – accessing other people’s sensitive information and log-in credentials, and hacking into their accounts to steal from them.

Is airport Wi-Fi safe? Definitely not!

I’d certainly heard of airport Wi-Fi dangers – vague things about how the networks were not secure – but I hadn’t heard of anyone I know having a problem like this.

Immediately, I thought of the times I’ve used airport Wi-Fi networks to check email, download more Netflix shows, or purchase eBooks before a flight. Had I accidentally exposed my personal and work accounts, multiple times, by using crappy airport Wi-Fi? Yikes.

Lesson learned! The next time I travel out of the country, I’m definitely going to make sure I use a data eSIM for every country I’ll be stopping in – even if it’s just for a few hours on a layover – instead of only using data eSIMs for the official destination(s).

Safety tips for avoiding airport Wi-Fi

* Never connect to a free (or paid) airport Wi-Fi network where your information is not secure

* Paid airport Wi-Fi is not safer than using a free network – it’s probably just faster since they are fewer users, and scammers can pay to use it, too

* Toggle OFF Wi-Fi before you enter an airport because your phone might remember it from a previous trip and try to automatically connect you

* Make sure laptops and tablets aren’t also trying to automatically connect to a saved airport Wi-Fi network

* An eSIM is a digital SIM card that connects you to data networks so you have an internet connection without using Wi-Fi. If you’ll be in another country during a layover on vacation, buy a small prepaid eSIM data package (1 GB) so you have a safe data connection while you wait around the airport.

* Buy the data package and install the eSIM while you’re still at home, and then you can begin using your data when you arrive at the airport where you’re spending your layover, and then you can avoid airport Wi-Fi completely.