We review vendors based on rigorous testing and research but also take into account your feedback and our affiliate commission with providers. Some providers are owned by our parent company.
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vpnMentor was established in 2014 as an independent site reviewing VPN services and covering privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize the independent, professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
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vpnMentor was established in 2014 as an independent site reviewing VPN services and covering privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize the independent, professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

Is Airport WiFi Safe to Use? Stay Secure on Free WiFi in 2024

Kennedy Otieno Fact-checked by Ryan Jones Cybersecurity Researcher

It's always tempting to connect to airport WiFi to check on vital work emails or to pass the time. However, you can easily become a target for hackers and criminals on airport WiFi. Public networks are rarely properly secured and can be vulnerable to all sorts of threats.

It’s highly recommended to use a VPN when connecting to any airport hotspot. A VPN is a privacy protection tool that ensures all traffic to and from your device is sent through a secure, encrypted tunnel. That way, snoops and hackers can't intercept or monitor your activities on airport WiFi because it's entirely unreadable.

ExpressVPN is my top choice for staying safe on airport WiFi. It offers advanced encryption and security features to secure your data and privacy, giving you peace of mind while surfing or accessing work emails on the go. You can try ExpressVPN risk-free because it's backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Use Airport WiFi with ExpressVPN >>

Quick Guide: How to Stay Safe on Airport WiFi in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Download a VPN. I recommend ExpressVPN because it provides robust protection from hackers and snoops on public WiFi. You can test ExpressVPN without risk, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
  2. Connect to a server. Pick one that's near your location to get the fastest speeds. For example, choose a Los Angeles server if you're at LAX.
  3. Start using airport WiFi. Connect to the WiFi and securely access the internet.

What Are the Risks of Using Airport WiFi?

Since airport WiFi is public, anyone can connect to the same network. And since airport WiFi is rarely secured, hackers can easily connect to and exploit these networks to intercept the sensitive data in your online traffic. This puts you at serious risk of identity theft, financial theft, or fraud. Hackers can steal sensitive data like your bank account logins, credit card information, or other personal credentials.

Imagine writing your financial info on a paper airplane and then floating it through an open room where anyone can catch and read it — that's what you're doing on unsecured public WiFi. Some paid airport WiFi services may feature a little more in the way of security, but they’re still public and exploitable by skilled hackers.

Common Threats and Hacking Tactics Used on Airport WiFi

Here are some of the most common cyber threats to look out for when connecting to a hotspot at the airport:

  • Lookalike (Evil Twin / Rogue Access Point / Honeypot) networks. It's relatively easy for hackers to set up fake networks disguised as the airport’s legitimate WiFi. When you connect to these networks, your browsing activity and entered credentials will be going straight into the hacker’s hands. A common sign of a fake network is unusual capitalization, numbers, or special characters in the name. To avoid being tricked, you can usually find the correct WiFi network name on signs around the airport.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. This is when a hacker intercepts the communication between your device and the airport WiFi by placing themselves into the process as a “middle man” (also called DNS spoofing or DNS poisoning). They can then steal or manipulate all the data you send or receive.
  • Phishing links and pages. Hackers may control fake websites that are used to capture your passwords or financial information. By compromising the airport WiFi, hackers can send you emails or messages with a link to these malicious pages, or forcibly redirect you onto one via a MITM attack. These pages may also contain malware, pop-up adware, ransomware, or spyware (like keyloggers that capture your account passwords).
  • Eavesdropping and packet sniffing. Unsecured networks make it easy for hackers to capture packets of unencrypted traffic and examine it for useful info (usually sensitive information like passwords, personal data, and other types of communication).

Use Airport WiFi with ExpressVPN >>

How to Stay Safe on Airport WiFi: Complete Guide

Being aware of the risks of airport WiFi will only get you so far. Here are some real actions you can take to avoid cyber threats the next time you travel.

1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to Encrypt Your Data

VPNs act as a protective shield for your online activities. Once activated, a VPN encrypts all your online traffic, making it unreadable to potential eavesdroppers (including airport WiFi administrators). It’s like driving your data through a secret underground tunnel, rather than taking the open road where anyone can see it.

The best VPNs also come with plenty of other security features to keep you safe on airport WiFi, like:

  • A kill switch. This feature automatically shuts off your internet access if you lose connection to the VPN, preventing your online data from ever being left vulnerable on airport WiFi.
  • Leak protection. Top VPNs include measures that prevent identifying data (like your IP/IPv6 address, DNS requests, or WebRTC communications) from being leaked and easily accessed by airport WiFi hackers.
  • Ad, tracker, and malicious site blockers. Not every VPN offers these features, but the best ones will block ads, prevent marketing trackers from stalking your online activity, and warn you if you’re about to click a malicious link — which is very handy for defending against airport WiFi phishing attacks.

Just remember that not all VPNs can offer a fully secure environment for airport Wifi, so it's critical you choose one that is proven to be secure. ExpressVPN is my go-to for staying safe on airport WiFi.

2. Confirm You're Using an Authentic Airport WiFi Network

Hackers often set up "evil twin" networks, mimicking genuine airport WiFi to trap unsuspecting users. Before connecting, it's wise to verify the official airport WiFi network's name with staff at the front desk. This simple check can prevent accidental connections to potentially harmful networks.

Once you’re done using airport WiFi, it’s also a good idea to disconnect and tell your device to “forget” the network. This minimizes the time hackers have to get their hands on your data and prevents your device from auto-reconnecting without you realizing. I’d also advise adjusting your settings to make sure your device never auto-connects to any unknown networks.

3. Use Cellular Data for Transferring Sensitive Data

4G or 5G connections can serve as a more secure gateway than airport WiFi, as telecom providers usually encrypt cellular data. Alternatively, you can set your phone up as a private hotspot for you or your trusted friends to connect to. You can usually find your phone’s hotspot toggle in your network, connection, or cellular settings.

However, please keep in mind that mobile hotspots can present their own security risks — hackers could easily gain access if you neglect to properly secure them, and the connection between device and hotspot can be compromised or intercepted. Quality VPNs are a much more secure method of accessing the internet at airports.

4. Avoid Inputting Personal Information While on Public Networks

If your online traffic is intercepted in the airport lounge, the snoop will be able to see everything you enter into websites. Due to the prevalence of phishing attacks on public networks, it’s also possible that you may be on a fake page disguised as your bank or something similar — another method the hacker can use to get your sensitive data.

Due to these reasons, try not to log in to any sensitive sites or fill out forms with personal or financial information while on airport WiFi. If you’re asked to log in to the WiFi network itself, use a throwaway email so your real email address isn’t compromised.

5. Switch off Bluetooth, AirDrop, and Printer sharing

These features can be a point of entry for hackers. Cybercriminals can try to pair with your device or get you to unwittingly accept malicious files. Switch off these features to decrease the number of avenues hackers can use to compromise your device.

6. Use Antivirus Software and Bolster Your Device Security

Make sure your devices are updated, so you have the most secure version of your operating system. It’s also a good idea to install antivirus software to scan for threats and prevent harmful content from reaching your device in the first place. To the same end, I’d also recommend ensuring that any built-in firewalls on your device are enabled.

I’d also recommend keeping your logins secure with a password manager and two-factor authentication (2FA), or multi-factor authentication (MFA) if possible. If your device has fingerprint or face-scanning options, enable those for your sensitive accounts as they’re much harder to crack.

In your browser settings, you should also make sure you’re using HTTPS-only mode. This ensures your browser only accesses verified, secure websites (Google’s Safe Browsing mode can do this too). That way, you’re protected from fake phishing pages. Look for a padlock symbol at the left of your URL bar, which indicates that you’re accessing a secure site.

Try ExpressVPN Risk-Free >>

The Best VPNs for Airport WiFi in 2024

1. ExpressVPN — Military-Grade Encryption to Protect You on Airport WiFi

Best Feature AES 256-bit encryption locks down your data and communications
Security Threat Manager to warn you about malicious websites or trackers
Server Network 3,000 obfuscated servers spanning 105 countries
Simultaneous Connections 8

ExpressVPN’s military-grade encryption keeps snoops at bay on airport WiFi. It even uses a process called Perfect Forward Secrecy to frequently change encryption keys — making your sessions on airport WiFi even more difficult and time-consuming to compromise meaningfully. In addition, should your VPN connection drop accidentally on unstable airport WiFi, Network Lock (a built-in kill switch) instantly cuts off your internet to avoid data exposure.

I tested for leaks on multiple ExpressVPN servers and neither my IP address or DNS requests were revealed. The Threat Manager feature also blocks any communications with known malicious apps, trackers, and websites — great for protecting you against scam sites on airport hotspots.

There’s also a strict no-logs policy, meaning ExpressVPN doesn't collect records of your browsing activities. The RAM-only servers add another layer of privacy because your data is automatically and entirely wiped with every regular reboot. ExpressVPN’s strategic location in the British Virgin Islands (outside of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances, which are countries that share intelligence) means the VPN isn’t legally required to store or hand over your data.

ExpressVPN is really fast too. Some VPNs slow your connection as they encrypt and reroute your traffic. However, ExpressVPN only impacted my speeds by an unnoticeable 7%. If you want to stream securely on airport WiFi, I recommend selecting the VPN’s Lightway protocol in the settings. A protocol is a set of rules that govern how data is transmitted and encrypted by a VPN — and Lightway gets you the fastest speeds without compromising security.

A significant drawback of the VPN is its comparatively high pricing. However, the frequent discounts can really reduce the price. I got up to 49% off with the yearly plan, letting me subscribe for just $6.67/month. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee so it’s easy to get a refund if the service isn’t right for you.

ExpressVPN Offer February 2024: For a limited time only, you can get an ExpressVPN subscription for up to 49% off! Don't miss out!

Useful Features

  • Obfuscated servers. Every server on the network uses obfuscation technology, which disguises your VPN traffic as regular traffic. This can be handy as some airport WiFi networks can detect and block VPNs.
  • Split tunneling. This feature lets you specify only certain apps to use the VPN, while everything else stays on your regular internet. You can check flight updates or casually browse on your faster non-VPN connection, while your emails and financial apps are routed through the VPN and kept secure.
  • Battery saving protocol. Lightway is not only fast, but it uses less battery life on your device too. That way, you remain connected and secure without having to recharge at the airport.
  • Device compatibility. ExpressVPN is compatible with most popular devices, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets — everything you may use at an airport.

Use Airport WiFi with ExpressVPN >>

2. CyberGhost — User-Friendly Apps to Easily Minimize Airport WiFi Threats

Best Feature Simple apps that are convenient for beginners
Security Automatic WiFi protection so you don’t have to remember to enable the VPN
Server Network 11,683 servers in 100 countries, including optimized servers for streaming, torrenting, and gaming
Simultaneous Connections 7

CyberGhost’s intuitive apps are straightforward to use on airport WiFi. The Best Location feature connects you to the fastest server for your location so you don’t have to waste time choosing. There are also apps for nearly every device and I found the same simple interface across most platforms when I tested CyberGhost.

You don’t even have to remember to enable the VPN at all, thanks to the automatic WiFi protection. This feature launches CyberGhost whenever it detects an unknown network — giving you instantaneous protection on airport WiFi (and any other public network).

That protection comes in the form of AES 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and IP/DNS leak protection. CyberGhost’s Content Blocker also warns you about dodgy websites and blocks domains associated with malware and adware.

No matter what you like to do online at the airport, the VPN has dedicated servers for every activity. There are streaming-optimized servers that are designed to work with a variety of sites like Netflix or BBC iPlayer. There are also torrent and gaming-optimized servers that give you the best speeds for downloads and low ping for gameplay. All the servers I tested were more than fast enough for streaming, only reducing the regular airport connection by 12%.

Subscribing monthly is a bit expensive (and only gets you a 14-day money-back guarantee). However, the extended plans are much more affordable — dropping to $2.03/month. Longer subscriptions also come with an extended money-back guarantee, meaning you can try CyberGhost for free for 45 days.

February 2024 Deal: CyberGhost is currently offering 84% off its most popular plan! Take advantage of this offer now and save more on your CyberGhost subscription.

Useful Features

  • WireGuard support. WireGuard is a VPN protocol that’s known for its speeds. While it wasn’t as fast as ExpressVPN’s Lightway during my tests, I still recorded speeds quick enough for Ultra HD streaming (over 25Mbps).
  • No logs policy. CyberGhost’s logging policy has also been independently audited to show it doesn’t monitor or record anything you do online.
  • NoSpy servers. These are servers located in the VPN’s own private data center in Romania and they’re available on all plans over 6 months. The staff closely monitors them to improve privacy and minimize cyber security threats. This is unlike most VPNs, who use third-party data centers that could be open to monitoring and attack.

Use Airport WiFi with CyberGhost >>

3. Private Internet Access — Unlimited Connections to Secure All Your Devices on Airport WiFi

Best Feature Secure as many devices as you want on one subscription
Security Customizable encryption to tailor the VPN for speed or security
Server Network 29,650 servers in 91 countries, offering you good speeds in airports all over the world
Simultaneous Connections Unlimited

With PIA, you can secure all the devices of your fellow travelers, keeping your whole group safe on airport WiFi. I tested PIA on my smartphone, tablet, and my friend’s laptop — it worked perfectly, even when I streamed on all the devices at the same time. Connections are unlimited across all the plans, meaning you can cover your entire family for just $2.03/month.

PIA can be customized to optimize security or speed. I had the choice of AES 256-bit encryption (the highest level) or AES 128-bit encryption (a little less secure, but a bit faster). I could also change my protocol from the secure OpenVPN to the speedy WireGuard. With WireGuard and AES 128-bit enabled, my connection only dropped by 15% — fast enough to stream Netflix in HD while waiting for my plane.

The only downside is that the complex set of settings can be a bit much if you’re new to VPNs. That said, the default settings offer good security for airport WiFi so you don’t have to worry about changing anything unless you want to. For example, the kill switch and leak protection is enabled by default.

February 2024 Update: PIA doesn't usually have deals or discounts (it's already so affordable), but right now you can get a new subscription for a crazy 82% off!

Useful Features

  • 30-day money-back guarantee. I tested the refund policy and had no issues getting my full payment back. That means you can try PIA’s full service for free.
  • Huge server network. PIA’s impressive network of 29,650 servers across 91 countries ensures that there’s always numerous reliable servers closeby, no matter where your travels take you.

Use Airport WiFi with PIA >>

FAQs on How to Safely Use Airport WiFi

How do I know if my airport WiFi is legit?

Ask staff or check airport signage for the official WiFi network name. Avoid suspicious WiFi with similar names, as they might be fake networks created by hackers. For an added layer of security, use a VPN to encrypt your data and traffic so that you’re safe even if you accidentally connect to a malicious network.

What can I do if I'm hacked over airport WiFi?

Disconnect and change passwords to all your critical accounts immediately, especially email and banking. I’d also recommend enabling 2FA for all these services if you haven’t already.

If you see any unauthorized transactions, inform your bank immediately. It’s also a good idea to run antivirus software to isolate any malware and to let airport staff know that you’ve been hacked. Going forward, always use a reliable VPN to encrypt your data on public WiFi.

Can I use a free VPN on airport WiFi?

No, most free VPNs aren’t safe for airport WiFi. Usually, they have weak encryption and lack essential security features that prevent cyber threats, like a kill switch and leak protection. At worst, free VPNs can sell your data or hide malware themselves. Instead, try a reputable paid VPN service that offers robust security and a money-back guarantee. That way, you get reliable protection — risk-free.

Even safe free VPNs severely limit features like server access, speed, data, and bandwidth. So you’re restricted in how much you can use them, especially for bandwidth-heavy activities like streaming (which is no good if you’ve got a long wait at the airport).

Securely Access Airport WiFi Now

Using airport WiFi exposes you to serious online risks. Data breaches, identity theft, and malware are all potential dangers. A VPN helps to mitigate these risks by securing your connection against hackers and third-party snooping.

ExpressVPN is my top recommendation for airport WiFi. It provides high-end security with military-grade encryption and multiple privacy protection features, keeping you safe on public networks. You can also try ExpressVPN risk-free since it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

To summarize, these are the best VPNs for airport WiFi…

Rank
Provider
Our Score
Discount
Visit Website
1
medal
9.9 /10
9.9 Our Score
Save 49%!
2
9.7 /10
9.7 Our Score
Save 84%!
3
9.5 /10
9.5 Our Score
Save 82%!
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The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.

VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

Visit ExpressVPN

We review vendors based on rigorous testing and research but also take into account your feedback and our affiliate commission with providers. Some providers are owned by our parent company.
Learn more
vpnMentor was established in 2014 as an independent site reviewing VPN services and covering privacy-related stories. Today, our team of hundreds of cybersecurity researchers, writers, and editors continues to help readers fight for their online freedom in partnership with Kape Technologies PLC, which also owns the following products: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, and Private Internet Access which may be ranked and reviewed on this website. The reviews published on vpnMentor are believed to be accurate as of the date of each article, and written according to our strict reviewing standards that prioritize the independent, professional and honest examination of the reviewer, taking into account the technical capabilities and qualities of the product together with its commercial value for users. The rankings and reviews we publish may also take into consideration the common ownership mentioned above, and affiliate commissions we earn for purchases through links on our website. We do not review all VPN providers and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.

About the Author

Kennedy is a Cybersecurity Researcher and Writer at vpnMentor. He tests VPN software to give legit user experiences that help people make informed choices. Kennedy also puts together detailed setup and troubleshooting guides for mobile, PC, and router devices.

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