Delta Air Lines aims to offer free WiFi on all flights, in a game-changing move which could put pressure on arch-rivals American Airlines and United to unshackle their inflight Internet services.
“We’re working on it... you will have it soon” teased Delta CEO Ed Bastian at the Skift Forum travel industry conference in New York last week.
Central to that 'experience' is to ensure Delta's inflight WiFi is not only free but fast, rather than see a plane-load of passengers creating a log-jam for the limited bandwidth available.
To that end, Bastian says the airline is working to increase on-board WiFi bandwidth based trials of free high-speed WiFi on selected domestic flights which began in May 2020, although this delivered mixed results and often sluggish speeds.
“We learned a lot,” Bastian said about that trial. "There were some things we found out that we hoped not to find out, in terms of the work needed until we can go for free."
What it all boils down to, Bastian related, is not economics but technology: specifically, having enough bandwidth to each aircraft to handle every passenger and meet their expectations.
The US carrier and Virgin Australia partner currently has WiFi installed across most of its fleet, with about 60% of those featuring a high-speed 2Ku satellite service with technology partner Gogo – a system capable of serving up 15Mbps to each device.
While Delta currently charges upwards of US$16 for a single-day WiFi pass, Bastian wants to ensure that when the price tag is removed those streaming-friendly broadband speeds will remain.
“We’re not there yet, but Gogo and Delta, working together, have dramatically improved the overall performance of Wi-Fi on our planes,” Bastion said.