Inflight connectivity has come a long way over the years. First we saw airlines introduce inflight Wi-Fi in the first place. Then we saw the speed of inflight Wi-Fi greatly improved, so that it’s similar to connectivity on the ground. Lately the focus has increasingly been on making inflight Wi-Fi free, or at least more affordable.
Here in the United States, JetBlue used to be the only major airline to offer free inflight Wi-Fi. Fortunately earlier this year we saw Delta follow JetBlue’s lead, and introduce free inflight Wi-Fi as well. I finally had my first experience using Delta’s new free inflight Wi-Fi, so in this post wanted to go over the details of how it works, and share my experience.
The basics of Delta’s free Viasat inflight Wi-Fi
Delta has long been considered the most “premium” major US airline, and the company has been able to leverage that to earn a revenue premium from passengers. For years, Delta management had been talking about introducing free inflight Wi-Fi.
For Delta, the major challenge used to not even be a cost problem, but rather it was a bandwidth problem. Delta’s old primary Wi-Fi provider (Gogo, which was acquired by Intelsat) couldn’t deliver the bandwidth required to offer reliably fast and free Wi-Fi to passengers. As you’d expect, when Wi-Fi is free, there’s a lot more demand for it.
So in 2021, Delta announced it would transition to Viasat for its inflight Wi-Fi. Viasat is the same provider you’ll find on JetBlue, which has reliably been offering free Wi-Fi for years. Now that a majority of Delta’s fleet has transitioned to Viasat, the airline finally introduced free inflight Wi-Fi as of February 2023.
How Delta’s free inflight Wi-Fi works
How does Delta’s free inflight Wi-Fi work? Which jets have free Wi-Fi, who is eligible for it, how do you log-in, and how good are the speeds? Let’s go over all the details…
Which Delta planes have free Wi-Fi?
Delta offers free Wi-Fi on all jets equipped with Viasat Wi-Fi. This includes a majority of narrow body aircraft. Currently well over 80% of Delta’s domestic fleet features Viasat Wi-Fi, and by the end of 2023, it should be available on over 700 jets.
You can expect to find free Wi-Fi on Airbus A320 family aircraft (including A319s, A320s, and A321s), as well as Boeing 737s. Note that on these aircraft, free Wi-Fi is offered on all routes. So if you’re on a short haul international flights (whether to Canada or Mexico), you should receive free Wi-Fi as well.
Which Delta planes don’t have free Wi-Fi?
Unfortunately not all Delta planes feature Viasat Wi-Fi just yet:
- Among narrow body mainline aircraft, you won’t generally find Viasat Wi-Fi on Airbus A220s and Boeing 717s
- You won’t find Viasat Wi-Fi on wide body aircraft, including Airbus A330s, Airbus A350s, and Boeing 767s
- Regional jets (including CRJ and Embraer aircraft) don’t feature Viasat Wi-Fi
In other words, don’t expect to get free Wi-Fi when traveling on a long haul Delta flight. Furthermore, many premium transcontinental routes are operated by Boeing 767s, and those also don’t feature free Wi-Fi. As it stands, the plan is for all wide body aircraft to feature Viasat Wi-Fi by the end of the 2024.
Who is eligible for free Wi-Fi on Delta?
On eligible flights, free Wi-Fi is available to all Delta SkyMiles members. Anyone can instantly join SkyMiles for free at this link. There’s no need to actually credit your flight to SkyMiles or have your SkyMiles number on your record. You just need to know your SkyMiles log-in details once onboard a flight.
You can connect to Wi-Fi for free with multiple devices with one SkyMiles log-in, so you can use the Wi-Fi on your laptop, smartphone, etc.
How do you connect to free Wi-Fi on Delta?
Delta’s Viasat Wi-Fi is available gate-to-gate. As soon as you get on a Delta flight, you can connect to the “DeltaWiFi” network, which should redirect you to deltawifi.com. Once there, click the “Access Free Wi-Fi” button.
You’ll then be directed to enter your SkyMiles number or username, plus account password.
If you don’t know your password, worry not. You can also connect without your password by entering your full name, email, and date of birth, that matches what’s on file on your SkyMiles account.
And that’s it, you should then find that you’re logged into your Wi-Fi, and can start browsing the web as you usually would. You can stream videos, audio, and more.
How good are the Wi-Fi speeds on Delta?
Viasat is the best mainstream inflight Wi-Fi provider, so you should find the Wi-Fi speeds to be quite good. Will it be as good as you’re used to on the ground? Probably not. But given that you’re flying 500 miles per hour six miles above the earth’s surface, I’d say it’s pretty impressive. 😉
Personally I found the speeds on my recent Delta flight to be quite good. However, maybe it was just a bad experience, but I didn’t find Wi-Fi to be quite as good as on a comparable American flight with Viasat Wi-Fi. I suppose that’s to be expected, given the much higher usage among passengers on Delta.
For what it’s worth, I did a speed test during the flight. As you can see, the download speed was excellent, while the upload speed was not-so-excellent.
How can Delta make the economics of free Wi-Fi work?
How can Delta make the economics of free Wi-Fi work? After all, Wi-Fi is going from a source of revenue to a cost center. So, what’s Delta management thinking by making this free, given how tough the margins in the airline industry can be?
- This is part of Delta’s overall investment in trying to be a premium airline, and continuing to command a revenue premium through offering a better passenger experience
- Wi-Fi is sponsored by T-Mobile, and you have to watch a 15-30 second ad when you connect to the Wi-Fi, so I imagine that’s offsetting some of the cost of offering this
- The free Wi-Fi is intended to increase the membership base of SkyMiles, and Delta is better able to generate revenue from people who are members, by marketing credit cards and other products to them
Will American & United follow Delta’s free Wi-Fi lead?
In the US airline industry we see a lot of copying between airlines. With Delta now having introduced free Wi-Fi, will we see American and United follow? Here’s the way I view it:
- While United is increasingly trying to catch up with Delta when it comes to passenger experience, the airline is a long ways off from being able to offer free Wi-Fi; that’s because United is a distant third among the “big three” when it comes to its Wi-Fi capabilities across the fleet
- American was ironically the first of the “big three” US carriers to have Viasat Wi-Fi on a widespread basis, though go figure the airline is otherwise not looking to compete with Delta or United on product (American’s “product” is primarily its domestic network out of Charlotte, Dallas, and Phoenix)
There have been rumors that American will eventually match Delta’s free Wi-Fi. It’s anyone’s guess if that comes to fruition, and if so, with what timeline.
Fortunately we’re seeing airlines across the globe improving the value proposition of Wi-Fi, from Singapore Airlines introducing free Wi-Fi on all flights, to Air Canada introducing free inflight messaging, to SWISS lowering the pricing of its absurdly expensive Wi-Fi.
Delta now offers free Wi-Fi on a vast majority of its narrow body aircraft. If you fly an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 family aircraft, you can expect that you’ll have free Wi-Fi, and it’s anticipated that this will be expanded to long haul flights by late 2024.
To use Delta’s free Wi-Fi, just sign-up for SkyMiles. This is such an awesome value-add for customers, and it really is amazing how far inflight connectivity has come. And really, kudos to JetBlue for offering this a decade before Delta. Here’s to hoping this becomes the standard across the industry sooner rather than later.
What do you make of Delta offering free inflight Wi-Fi? If you’ve used it, what was your experience like??