Traveling would probably be better for most people if all airports offered free wifi, but they don’t. For those that don’t, or those that have time restrictions on their free wifi, what’s a traveler to do?
An unhelpful answer is to get lounge access, since I can’t think of a lounge that doesn’t offer free wifi to its guests. But you generally have to pay for lounge access somehow, be it through your booked fare class, a one-time pass, being someone’s guest (friendship isn’t free), a credit card, etc. But is there a way to get access to the wifi without getting access to the lounge?
Generally, I believe the answer to this question is yes. In some cases, this is as simple as standing outside the lounge and using the wifi since the wifi isn’t always password protected. Take the Lotus and Araliya Lounges in the Colombo (CMB) airport. Even though they’re across the hall from each other, I could pick up both lounges’ wifi signals regardless of which lounge I was in, and there are even seats right in front of the lounges. Problem solved.
But what if the wifi is password protected? You could always try hacking the password (or just guessing since lounge wifi passwords are often silly things like “loungewifi”), or you can look up the lounge beforehand on Foursquare and see if anyone has posted the wifi password.
I’m not sure why people do this, but for most airport lounges I’ve been to with password-protected wifi, someone has posted the wifi password on Foursquare. Like check out the Foursquare page for the Primeclass CIP Lounge in the Istanbul (IST) airport:
So if you’re willing to do a tiny bit of research prior to your trip (or if you have internet access on your phone, you can just look it up at the airport), it’s possible that you can get free wifi at the airport.
This of course doesn’t always work (and it’s possibly slightly maybe a little ethically dubious). In some cases, it’s not really feasible to stand or sit outside the lounge (e.g. the elevator that you need to take to get to the Atlantic Lounge in the Munich (MUC) airport opens directly into the lounge), or you won’t be able to get a good enough signal outside of the lounge. But I think this tip can probably help in most airport terminals.