Over the past few years we’ve seen huge improvements when it comes to inflight wifi:
- First we saw airlines add inflight wifi in the first place
- Then we saw airlines introduce higher speed wifi
- Now we’ve seen airlines introduce some wifi services for free (like free messaging, limited free data, free wifi for a certain amount of time, etc.)
Delta’s Free Wifi Trial
Delta is by far the most innovative of the “big three” US carriers, and they actually put effort into offering their passengers a quality experience. Along those lines, for quite a while now Delta has been talking about how they have the goal of eventually making inflight wifi free.
This May Delta ran a two week trial where they offered free wifi on 55 flights around their domestic network to see what usage would be like.
Delta said that this trial was the first step towards offering free inflight wifi, as they wanted to get a sense of what consumer behavior would be like with free wifi. They were looking to employee and customer feedback to figure out how best to make free inflight wifi a reality.
What’s Standing In The Way Of Delta’s Free Wifi
What did Delta’s free wifi tests determine? Well, unfortunately it’s not good news.
Skift quotes Delta CEO Ed Bastian as saying that while Gogo has made big improvements to their inflight wifi, unfortunately they can’t get speeds that support the heavy usage from passengers when offering it for free. As Bastian explained:
“We are working hard with Gogo on the technical features. It is really just a question of technical. It is not economics. I am nervous that if we turned it on, it’s going to cause system outages.”
At this point it’s technology and not economics standing in the way of Delta offering free wifi.
So it sure seems like technology needs to be improved before free wifi on Delta is a reality. Delta already offers Gogo 2Ku, which is Gogo’s fastest product. Unfortunately that likely means that we’re a ways off from free wifi being a reality.
What Are Delta’s Options At This Point?
Gogo 2Ku speeds couldn’t support the demand for unlimited free wifi, and it seems Delta is taking an “all or nothing” approach. I say that because I feel like there are some other interim solutions that they don’t seem to be publicly discussing, like:
- Limiting each passenger to one device (it could be that you have to enter your seat number and name when logging in)
- Limiting each passenger to a certain amount of free wifi (maybe an hour)
A lot of people would probably point out that JetBlue offers unlimited free wifi to passengers. The thing to note there is that they use Viasat and not Gogo. So it’s not that free wifi isn’t possible, but rather that it seems Gogo’s 2Ku system can’t support it.
I think all of us (including Delta) were hoping that they’d do this trial, say “yay, everything went great,” and a week later we’d have free wifi on all their flights.
Unfortunately it seems like Delta’s current systems can’t support this. I suppose Delta could take a hybrid approach and introduce free wifi with a catch (by limiting time, devices, etc.), but they’re also generally an all-or-nothing airline.
I’m curious what their next step is here, though unfortunately I don’t think free wifi is imminent…
What do you think Delta will do from here?