Delta Air Lines announced that it will be the first major US airline to offer free Wi-Fi to passengers onboard their aircraft from February 1. Free Wi-Fi is already available with JetBlue and was for a limited period also with American, but now Delta is the first of the Big Three to offer it as standard. Delta joins JetBlue by offering free Wi-Fi.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian announced the news on Thursday during CES 2023, the technology conference in Las Vegas. Free Wi-Fi will be offered to SkyMiles members on domestic and regional flights in the US from February 1. This eventually includes over 700 Delta aircraft that are equipped with Viasat satellite KA systems. On aircraft fitted with Intelsat systems, passengers will still require a subscription to a Wi-Fi pass to get free Wi-Fi. Non-members will pay $10. T-Mobile has been selected as the provider.
Delta plans to have fully rolled out free Wi-Fi on all regional and international aircraft by the end of 2024. It started equipping its Airbus A321ceo’s with satellite communication systems in early 2021 and has since then completed the work on 200 aircraft. A graphic on Delta’s website shows that 62 Boeing 757-200s and 130 737-900s are ready for free Wi-Fi. This roll-out will continue with 77 737-800s from January 10, 127 A321ceo’s from January 17, 56 A319s, 62 A320ceo’s, and 155 A321neo’s from January 24.
During CES, Bastian said that in his vision, “Wi-Fi should be free to all, it should be high-quality Wi-Fi. From February 1, it’s going to be available across Delta, it is going to be free, it is going to be fast, and available to everyone. It is so important to us, that over the last years, we have invested over $1.0 billion to create this.”
On JetBlue since 2017
Delta’s initiative comes six years after JetBlue announced it would roll out free Wi-FI via Viasat on all its aircraft. All aircraft have standard coverage over the US but on the restyled A320s and A321neo’s, expanded coverage is also available over Central America and the Caribbean while the A321LR has free Wi-Fi on the transatlantic network to London. In a disclaimer on its website, JetBlue says the service is conditional to weather and “other variables.”
American Airlines ran a trial with free Wi-Fi from April to the end of May 2022 using Viasat, but currently only offers a paid version to its customers again for $10 per service. American’s Wi-Fi Subscription Plan costs $49.95 per month for one device, but that rate is only available to AAdvantage members.
United Airlines also offers only paid Wi-Fi for $8 on domestic flights and those to Mexico and Canada. On other flights, the service is available to frequent flyers for $49 per month, although MileagePlus cardholders get a 25 percent discount. Like Delta, United is using T-Mobile as a provider.
It will be interesting to see how American and United, plus other US airlines, will respond to Delta’s initiative. Non-US airlines have been offering free Wi-Fi for much longer, including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Qantas, Air New Zealand, and China Eastern. In most cases, the service is only available to members of their frequent-flyer programs
Ed Bastian had more news to share at CES, as Delta will also introduce a new travel ecosystem called Delta Sync. It offers free Wi-FI and personalized inflight entertainment from Paramount+ to SkyMiles members. The new service also includes options for drinks and meals. Partners on Delta Sync are New York Times Games, Resy, American Express, and Atlas Obscura. Part of the project is the roll-out of what Bastian called “smart screens” in the seatback that can interact with the personal electronic device of the passenger.
The airline also unveiled its Delta Sustainable Skies Lab, which will accelerate research, design, and testing of disruptive and sustainable initiatives. The lab will look across the airline to get feedback on how it can reduce its carbon footprint as it targets to become net zero in 2050. Delta also wants to achieve this target through new initiatives and partnerships with disruptors. This year, the Lab intends to test a new drag-reduction technology kit on the Boeing 737-800 and -900 that is being developed by Aero Design Lab.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News. From January 2023, he will add a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.