Jeremy Gutsche

Jeremy Gutsche got a shock when the bill landed for internet use on a Singapore Airlines flight. (The Lavin Agency)

A Toronto man says he received a nasty surprise when he got off a Singapore Airlines flight last week: a nearly $1,200 US bill for internet use. 

"I think the sum is shocking, and if you were a family traveller or someone like my mother, that bill would certainly ruin your vacation." Jeremy Gutsche said in an email to CBC News.

Gutsche, head of the consultancy website Trendhunter.com, was on a flight from London to Singapore last week and says he signed up for a 30 MB internet data plan offered by the airline for $28.99.

In a post on his own company website that is now flying around Twitter and other social media, Gutsche writes: "I had an otherwise enjoyable flight, but the sticker shock of being gouged $1,200 made me feel like I was deplaning from Total Bastard Airlines, that old skit from SNL where they kick you off the plane with a "Buy BYE!"

Gutsche said he knew he would likely go over the 30 MB limit, but was still stunned by the amount he was charged.  

A nasty surprise

"I was aware of the pricing, and even though I limited my surfing, my overage wasn't $50 or $100, it was an excessive $1,200." Gutsche tells CBC. The actual amount for overage costs was $1,142.

Gutsche said he wasn't streaming movies or video chatting with friends, but racked up the entire cost with just 155 page views, mostly reading his email.

"I get that the pricing model is listed in the terms and I was aware of it, but even so, my work ended up well over the limit." Gutsche says.

"That had me thinking that just because someone agrees to terms and conditions does not actually mean that the pricing and terms are ethical."

Gutsche said most people expect to pay $10 or $20 for in-flight internet, or in his case, the more expensive plan, which was listed at $30, but don't expect to have authorized more than $1,000.

"Compare that with $14 for 24 hours on American Airlines, United, Air Canada, Delta, US Airways and Virgin. And on Jet Blue, Wi-Fi is free." Gutsche said.

"And if I could burn $1,200 on 155 pages (and likely an update or two running in the background), an aggressive surfer or game player could far surpass that."

Out of luck

An email to Singapore Airlines for comment wasn't immediately returned.

However, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, the airline says it has been in touch with OnAir, the Switzerland-based internet provider for the flight, on Gutsche's behalf, but the airline says Gutsche is on the hook for the full amount.  

The Wall Street Journal quotes OnAir as saying "the purchase for its services is transparent."

β€œTo consume several hundred megabytes during one flight takes much more than basic email viewing, for example downloading heavy attachments, cloud access and using Skype,” the paper quotes OnAir as saying in a statement.

Gutsche disagrees.

"If we can land a probe on an asteroid, and if every other airline can manage to serve internet at a flat rate (or free), then it shouldn't be so wildly complicated for Singapore Airlines that they need to bill some people $1,200." 

Gutsche's experience is a cautionary tale, as more and more airlines offer paid, in-flight internet service.  

The U.S. is also studying the idea of allowing passengers to make in-flight voice calls on their cellphones.

If you have a consumer issue, contact Aaron Saltzman.