Airline passengers browsing the web using in-flight Wi-Fi might be forgiven for thinking they've stepped back in time. Despite the premium prices usually charged by airlines, connection speeds in the air can hark back to the days of dial-up. Now a team at Northwestern University has developed an extension for the Chrome browser that significantly speeds up page loading.

Developed by Fabián Bustamante and his team at Northwestern, the extension, called ScaleUp, works in a fairly simple way. When dealing with the multitude of images that are common on most modern webpages, instead of making things smaller, it – as the name suggests – scales them up. The result is that fewer images are displayed in the browser window at the same time and more of the content is pushed down the page.

"Travelers are paying a lot of money and getting modem-like performance," says Bustamante, professor of computer science at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. "Honestly it was a simple observation: If your performance on a web browser is going to be determined by the number of images that need to be loaded on the page, then how do you limit those images."

In addition to images being upsized, font size is also increased slightly to add to the content shuffle downwards. Giving a further boost, the extension also disregards the code that requests the loading of various fonts, falling back on the default font that is displayed when requested fonts are unavailable. Sure, it might not look as pretty as the site designer intended, but at least you'll be able to read it before the plane lands.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of ScaleUp, the team tested it on a CNN page. Without the extension, the page took 80.7 seconds to load, but this was slashed to just 20.8 seconds when the extension was enabled.

Jetsetters can get ScaleUp from the Chrome Web Store for free now, which will help gather data that will aid in further improving the extension. The team points out that only information on network speeds and page loading times is gathered, and that information on what sites you visit isn't collected.