Could Free Inflight WiFi Be the Future? Delta Air Lines Thinks So

by Daniel McCarthy
Could Free Inflight WiFi Be the Future? Delta Air Lines Thinks So

During the testing period, Delta Air Lines passenger will be able to browse, email, shop, message, and more, all free of charge. Photo: viper-zero / Shutterstock.com.


Delta Air Lines this week has started to test free WiFi on some of its domestic flights as part of a two-week program that it says could lead to “realizing its vision” of adding WiFi to complimentary onboard experiences.

The test program, which kicks off in all cabins on some of Delta’s short-, medium-, and long-haul routes, does not support content streaming but does give travelers the ability to browse, email, shop, message, and more, all free of charge. Flyers will be notified by Delta if they’re on a test flight with an email or a notification on the Fly Delta app.

"Customers are accustomed to having access to free WiFi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too," said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta’s director of onboard product.

According to Dimbiloglu, the key for rolling the program out will be testing. “This takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch,” he said. Delta said it needs to understand customer preferences and system performance before it can move forward, and more rounds of testing after this two-week period are likely.

"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 WiFi a reality," Dimbiloglu said.

Right now, Delta offers WiFi onboard for a fee — a day pass for North America flights costs $16 and an international flight day pass costs $28. Delta also offers two longer passes for domestic flyers, one monthly that costs $29.95 and one annually that runs $599.99. The carrier does offer free access to its entertainment studio, Delta Studio, via seat-back screens and through personal devices.

If Delta follows through on its goal to add free WiFi onboard, it will join JetBlue, the only other domestic carrier to offer free WiFi onboard. American Airlines charges $16 for a day pass on its domestic flights, and United Airlines charges between $19 and $29 for its full-day passes.

Delta first mentioned the prospect of free WiFi last year. Speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said his airline aimed to make WiFi not only faster, but free. “I don’t know of anywhere else besides in an airplane that you can’t get free Wi-Fi,” he said (although some hotels and airports continue to charge customers for WiFi use in some circumstances).

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