Skift Take

Now everyone can log on in the skies on Delta.

Delta Air Lines is finally doing it. The airline will make good on its promise to make in-flight Wi-Fi free to all passengers in February.

“Delta is here to announce that starting February 1st Wi-Fi will be free across our entire company,” CEO Ed Bastian said at the CES conference in Las Vegas on Thursday. “It is going to be free, it is going to be fast, and it is going to be available to everyone.”

The roll out on February 1 is not without limits. Free Wi-Fi will only be available on aircraft equipped with a new system provided by Viasat initially; roughly 80 percent of Delta’s domestic fleet is equipped with a target of 700 aircraft by the end of the year, Bastian said. Notable exceptions include parts of its international fleet and some of the used Boeing 737s the airline recently acquired. Delta aims to offer free Wi-Fi on all of its flights by the end of 2024, he added.

Travelers will need to login to their SkyMiles loyalty account to connect to the free Wi-Fi, but can do so on as many devices as they wish — music to the ears of any parent who needs to connect a laptop, phone, and child’s tablet with only one account — Bastian added.

In-flight Wi-Fi, a rarity just a decade ago, has become an expected amenity among travelers. All major U.S. airlines offer onboard connectivity but only JetBlue Airways makes it free. Other carriers, including United Airlines, have lowered the price of their onboard Wi-Fi offering but not made it free. Global airlines are also installing Wi-Fi on their aircraft, though most lag their U.S. counterparts in number of aircraft with the offering and few offer connectivity for free.

Delta’s move to make Wi-Fi free comes as it doubles down on its status as the premium U.S. airline. The carrier is installing more premium seats on its aircraft, including plans to retire its last planes without a first class cabin by summer. And it is making significant investments in its key airports, with new facilities opening in Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle last year, and Salt Lake City in 2020.

“The thing we’re going to get to — haven’t figured out how yet — but the thing we’re going to get to is we’re going to make it free,” Bastian said on in-flight Wi-Fi at the Skift Global Forum in 2018. “I know our customers want it, and I don’t know any place in the world that you pay for Wi-Fi other than a plane.”

Delta clearly found a way to make Wi-Fi free, and to do so profitably. The airline is expected to post its first post-pandemic annual profit when it presents its 2022 results on January 13.

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Tags: airlines, delta air lines, inflight Wi-Fi, passenger experience

Photo credit: Passengers can connect to the internet for free on most Delta flights from February 1. Delta Air Lines

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