Free Delta Wifi — Coming Soon?

Filed Under: Delta, Travel Technology

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.

Bottom line

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?

Comments
  1. Like you mentioned Jetblue has been offering it so I applaud Delta doing this. If anything maybe UA will get serious about upgrading their slow WiFi.

  2. Again we are seeing DL being the leading legacy carrier. And I agree with Ben, an extra fee for faster wifi should work well the complimentary regular wifi, particularly for long-haul flights

  3. I have to admit that I’m surprised that WN has eliminated fees for movies and messaging like other carriers, but hasn’t removed the already low wifi fee. My only concern with carriers like DL is, will the wifi really be free? Or will it be added to all passengers’ costs in the form of adding a few dollars to the average fare? I think the latter is most likely, in which case I’d rather see reduced cost wifi rather than “free” wifi.

  4. I wonder if airplanes can offer different levels of wifi like hotels (basic vs enhanced). So they could allocate faster paid bandwidth for the business travelers while allowing everyone else to access the free slower part.

  5. Oh gosh no. I would absolutely pay 9.99 for a decent WiFi connection for a flight or 11.99 for 24 hours. That’s my own personal stingy limit unless I have specific work to do, but I’d absolutely pay it. They should figure out the threshold because it’s better to have a good service for a few, than an ok service for everyone.

    And now I know why my mother thinks I’m a horrible capitalist. Ok make it 4.99 and 9.99 or pay with miles so it’s more accessible.

  6. Agree with others that I’d rather have a fee so I can get a quality connection and speed than have unusable wifi for everyone.

    Maybe United should consider not charging for planes with their slow crappy wifi (since I still barely get a connection when paying – might as well be free), and only charging for their planes that have 2ku or similar fast wifi. I’m generally happy with wifi on United’s widebodies internationally but domestically is a crapshoot at best.

  7. Wonder if AA will follow DL on this? WiFi should be free on every flight, especially those with no IFE.

  8. Call me selfish if you want, but thanks to this blog and others like it, I know how to use credit cards to get free wifi for my relatively limited travels. Using the AmEx Business Platinum card, I have more than enough GoGo passes for my flights on Delta each year. I have been able to stream Amazon Prime on a transAtlantic flight using one of these passes. It was not as good as at home, but it was good enough for a laptop. I am scheduled for that same flight later this year an I will have to miss one of our home college football games so I am counting on being able to pull up ESPN and stream the game in-flight. If they went free with the ensuring demand on the limited bandwidth, there goes that option. In general, I like this move, it’s customer friendly from Delta, but for those of us who know how to work the system – and there is something to be said for putting forth effort to learn this and do what is needed to take advantage of it – I would prefer they not change anything.

  9. I remember in the past when Delta had “sponsored” wifi for periods when anyone could log in for free wifi. To Lucky’s point it became so slow it was unusable. I hope this doesn’t become a widespread reality until the overall bandwidth can handle it.

  10. Can I point out that Qantas, an airline with more difficulty establishing wifi due to the routes they operate. Has free and fast wifi on all planes with wifi (domestic only for now). They have their own satellite system and from personal experience I can say that it is FAST. Really fast. Better than at home. Free fast wifi is not impossible. Just annoying to set up. Just my two cents…

  11. Was also just dropping by to say that Qantas free wifi if pretty fast and effective. Can’t say how many on each flight make use of it. However I fly some pretty at some business traveller heavy times when lots of people (like me) are probably catching up on email etc. before starting the day and I’ve not had a problem with it so far.

  12. I like the idea of a tiered wifi system. A free “throttled” wifi for everyone, which would allow for general web browsing, email, text messages, etc. Then an upgraded wifi option, which would allow for streaming services to be utilized.

  13. It is truly shocking how many people here are willing to compromise even before details are released?

    Why settle for a tiered model? Why not aim for something greater and really wield it as a competitive advantage?

    It’s amazing the lengths since people will go just to maintain their veneer of exclusivity and superiority.

  14. Can one make WhatsApp calls, Skype calls from the in-flight wifi?
    Asking this as we don’t have Wifi in our domestic flights (I am from India).
    If yes, I am dreading that we will have a noisy flight with people video-chatting, calling people etc.

  15. I think it’s hilarious that Delta claims leadership in the inflight entertainment space by using the “global” tag. Which is how they ignore the fact that JetBlue has been offering free TV since day 1 and free WiFi since they started installing it.

  16. Are WiFi speeds on free JetBlue connection reasonable? Do they use the same tech as Delta? I see it as a cyclical industry fad: unbundle the fare, re-bundle the fare.

    Delta seems to prefer premium revenue over ancillary fees lately. I agree, I think it is a more customer-centric and brand enhancing approach as paying a la carte for this and that takes away from the value of the brand while promised “basic’ economy discounts are disguised fare hikes, as you wrote about so many times, and the experience of booking one is that of a third class citizen explicitly agreeing to forego what used to be offered to everyone. It chips away at the brand, too.

    Brand is the most valuable asset of a successful business.

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