Inflight technology has come a long way. Over the past few years we’ve seen inflight wifi go from the exception to the norm. Not only that, but we’ve seen airlines greatly improving speeds so that wifi on a plane is similar to what you’ll find on the ground.
Free inflight wifi on the horizon?
It seems like the next major frontier of inflight wifi is not having to pay for it. Notably this is something that JetBlue has offered for quite a while, though not many airlines have followed so far, at least not on a widespread basis. We have seen some airlines (like Alaska and Delta) offer free inflight messaging, but that’s not quite the same as free wifi altogether.
Delta management has been saying for quite a while that they hope to soon introduce free wifi throughout their fleet, pointing out that airplanes are one of the only places that you have to pay for wifi nowadays.
Well, Delta has announced a big step towards that today.
Delta’s two week trial of free wifi
On May 13, 2019, Delta will start a two week free wifi trial, available on around 55 domestic flights. This will apply to short, medium, and long haul routes within Delta’s domestic network.
The specific flights with free wifi will change daily, though customers will be notified by Delta if they’re on one of these flights prior to departure, either via an email or through a push notification from the Delta app.
Delta says that this is the first step towards realizing their vision of offering free wifi as part of their “leading suite of complimentary onboard entertainment options.”
This trial is designed to understand customer experience preferences, system preferences, customer feedback, and more. Due to the complexity of this undertaking, Delta says it will take several more test phases before they offer free wifi altogether. So expect this to be months or years out, and not days or weeks out.
As Delta’s Director of Onboard Product describes it:
“Customers are accustomed to having access to free Wi-Fi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too. Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right – this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch.
As with any test in uncharted territory, Delta will rely heavily on customer and employee feedback to navigate how to best make free in-flight Wi-Fi a reality.”
The test will include Delta’s Gogo inflight 2Ku high-speed wifi, though won’t support content streaming. Rather customers will be able to browse, email, shop, message, and engage in social media, all free of charge with Delta wifi. As of now about 60% of Delta’s mainline aircraft feature this wifi.
Delta notes that they’re already a leader when it comes to inflight entertainment:
- In 2016, Delta became the first US global airline to drop the paid model for in-flight entertainment and offer all-free Delta Studio content via seatback screens and streaming to personal devices
- In 2017, Delta became the first US global airline to offer free mobile messaging
- Delta offers more inflight video screens than any other airline
Is inflight wifi even a good thing?
It goes without saying that free inflight wifi sounds awesome. The issue is that as of now airlines are still dealing with extremely limited bandwidth on planes. So the challenge isn’t just for airlines to justify not collecting revenue from inflight wifi, but also to balance price and speed.
With current technology there simply isn’t enough bandwidth for everyone to browse wifi without greatly compromising the speed.
So what’s better — everyone getting free wifi that’s slow, or being able to pay a (potentially reasonable) price to get wifi that’s faster?
It will be interesting to see what Delta’s tests reveal regarding this.
I’m sure as technology improves this will become less of an issue, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
There are now also rumors that American will introduce free wifi, following Delta’s lead.
It’s exciting to see Delta so focused on trying to offer free wifi. While this is something that’s exciting to look forward to, I do think we’re probably still a ways off from this being a permanent reality.
I do have concerns about wifi speeds if it is free on a widespread basis with current technology. Would I like free wifi? Of course. But I’d also rather pay an extra $5 per hour of wifi to have truly good speeds, rather than free wifi that’s slow.
Do you think we’ll actually see Delta introduce free wifi on a widespread basis anytime soon, or are we years off from that happening?