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Delta CEO: Free Wi-Fi for All in ‘Another Year or Two’

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Last fall, Delta CEO Ed Bastian made waves when he promised the airline would eventually make inflight Wi-Fi free for all passengers. Now he's putting a timeline on it.

In an interview with Barron's, the airline executive indicated free Wi-Fi would be available by 2021 at the latest.

“Our goal is to make Wi-Fi free with high-speed quality,” Bastian said. “It will take another year or two to make that happen.”

Delta already has some of the best Wi-Fi available in the skies, thanks to the Gogo 2Ku internet available on the majority of its fleet. And the airline is also ahead of the competition when it comes to keeping passengers connected. More than 95 percent of its seats have Wi-Fi access, leaving just some small, 50-seat regional jets without it. That’s more like 90 percent for United and 85 percent on American, according to a 2018 Routehappy report.

Delta currently charges at least $16 for a day-long Wi-Fi pass, and nearly double that for international flights. Passengers can already connect to send messages for free, or use the onboard entertainment streaming system to a laptop or tablet.


Delta Free WiFi


Of course, Delta won't be the first to offer free inflight Wi-Fi. That distinction goes to jetBlue, which offers free gate to gate Wi-Fi for its passengers. But Delta’s fleet is much larger, and the prospect of free Wi-Fi on even long international flights is promising.

Our Analysis

This is an exciting development. Delta's previous promise to offer free inflight Wi-Fi rang a bit hollow without any timeline as to when it might be offered. Now, Bastian is committing to get it done within the next two years.

The issue here is making sure that internet speeds don't crater as more and more passengers get online. Forcing passengers to pay for Wi-Fi access is an easy way to ensure internet speeds aren't throttled in the air. It will no doubt take some time for Delta to upgrade its systems to do so.

Then again, Delta could still charge customers for the highest speed access, offering only a lower quality Wi-Fi access for free. That remains to be seen, and it's not a question Delta has addressed.

Regardless, this is the latest reminder of how far ahead of the curve Delta is among the major U.S. airlines. While Delta gets a bad rap for its SkyMiles program – sometimes unfairly, we argue – it's tough to argue against the fact that Delta is the best major domestic airline.

While American Airlines and United strip TVs out of seatbacks, Delta has doubled down. The competition is cramming more seats into planes like the Boeing 737 MAX, but Delta has gone with a far more spacious Airbus A220. And Delta consistently puts its competitors to shame for on-time arrivals.

Free Wi-Fi is just the next step. As Bastian put it: “Our strategy is to become a trusted consumer brand and not just an airline,” Bastian said.


Bottom Line

Kudos to Delta for pushing the envelope. While there are still many specifics to sort out, it seems clear now that it's only a matter of time before Delta offers free Wi-Fi to all passengers.


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