Flight test: Delta's complimentary inflight WiFi messaging service

By Chris C., August 23 2018
Flight test: Delta's complimentary inflight WiFi messaging service

While paid inflight Internet is practically ubiquitous in the USA, Delta Air Lines has gone one better by providing its passengers with complimentary access to inflight messaging services – allowing travellers to keep in touch with loved ones on the ground, or of course, the office back home.

Open to all flyers regardless of cabin, frequent flyer status, mobile service provider and without requiring a subscription, Delta guests now receive free access to iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp whenever regular inflight Internet is available on their aircraft: typically, when above 10,000 feet.

Australian Business Traveller took the service for a spin on a recent journey from New York to Boston – here’s how it worked out.

Delta complimentary inflight messaging: the basics

Before stepping on board, you’ll need to have already downloaded and set up your favourite messaging app – or enabled iMessage functionality, for iPhone users – and once in flight, you’ll be able to send text-based messages and those all-important emojis for free, via the three supported apps.

You won’t be able to send photos or videos via those apps, communicate via any other smartphone apps like Wickr or WeChat, use the ‘normal’ Facebook app, access any other data-based services like email, or indeed, browse web pages: if you want that, you’ll have to pay for a regular WiFi pass.

AusBT review: Delta inflight WiFi Internet

Assuming you’re okay with those restrictions, you’ll be able to use free messaging throughout your flight on any domestic or international Delta service equipped with inflight WiFi, which also includes regional Delta routes served by related brands like Delta Connection, and of course, Delta’s daily flights between Sydney and Los Angeles.

iPhone users, also take note that the service only supports data-based iMessages between Apple devices, rather than SMS text messages which can also be sent via the same Messages app.

You’ll know your contact can be reached by iMessage inflight if the texts you normally send them have a blue background on your device. If they instead adopt a green background, they’re being transmitted as traditional SMS, so you’d need to establish contact via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to continue that conversation inflight.

Delta complimentary inflight messaging: getting connected

For this to work, you’ll need to connect to the aircraft’s “DeltaWiFi” network after making sure your device is in flight mode, and open your web browser, where you’ll see a selection of plans. If nothing happens, just browse to WiFi.Delta.com:

While your eyes might be drawn to the “free WiFi and texting” plan further down, that's only for T-Mobile customers in the United States – what we’re looking at is the first option, “Delta presents Free Messaging”, which is available to all.

Proceed and you’ll be reminded of the plan’s restrictions, including that sending and receiving photos and videos via the supported apps has been blocked. Trust us, we certainly tried!

Once online, you’re all set to send and receive messages as you wish – but if you end up wanting access to other apps, websites and email, keep the confirmation page open (or return to WiFi.Delta.com) where there’s a handy link to upgrade your access, at the normal paid rates.

Delta complimentary inflight messaging: the verdict

Practically speaking, the service worked just as expected: I was able to send and receive messages just like I would on the ground, and on the hour-long hop between New York and Boston, I didn’t experience any interruptions, until the WiFi service was switched off for landing, as expected.

While it was only a short early morning flight, it was a service I still really appreciated having access to.

Given how much I travel for work, combined with the natural difficulty of communicating across various time zones, the service meant I could catch up with several friends and loved ones at a perfect time, just before they went to sleep in Australia – whereas if I’d waited until after landing, I’d have missed that chance until the next day.

Particularly on quick domestic flights where purchasing full inflight Internet access mightn’t be worth it for most travellers, it’s great to have the simplest level of connectivity now available at no charge: whether your plans are social, or you’re preparing for a meeting or event ahead of your arrival.

In my book, anything that makes travelling for work easier, whether for the traveller as an individual or to make their business day run smoother, has to be a good thing.

Chris Chamberlin travelled at his own expense.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

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