Delta Will Start Trialing Free Wi-Fi From Next Week

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JetBlue has offered free wi-fi onboard its aircraft for years and it has been interesting to see how the other US airlines have, until now, resolutely chosen not to follow suit.

American Airlines, United, Southwest, Alaska, and Delta all still charge passengers for internet access onboard their aircraft and, considering some of the service levels on offer, it’s not hard to argue that they have a cheek charging for what’s provided…but the landscape may be about to change.

an airplane flying in the sky

Delta has today announced that starting May 13th it will begin a two-week trial during which it will offer free wi-fi to all passengers on select short-, medium- and long-haul routes.

The airline says that this is the first step toward realizing its vision of offering free in-flight wi-fi as part of its suite of onboard entertainment options.

Here’s what Delta’s “director of onboard product” had to say when the announcement was made:

“Customers are accustomed to having access to free Wi-Fi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too”

“Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right – this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch.”

The airline has confirmed that the free wi-fi trial will not support content streaming but that it will allow passengers to browse the internet, access social media sites and access email just as if they were paying for the service.

Delta hasn’t said which routes will be taking part in the trial but it has said that approximately 55 domestic segments per day will offer passengers access to free wi-fi during the two-week period.

The free wi-fi trial will be taking place on Delta’s 2KU wi-fi equipped aircraft which, according to the airline’s wi-fi information page, include the following aircraft types:

a white card with black text

*only on select aircraft

If you’re flying one of the above aircraft types next week (or the week after) there’s a chance you’ll be offered free wi-fi onboard.

a plane on the runway
Image courtesy of Stuart Seeger


Delta says that this is just an initial test and that many more tests will be required before free wi-fi can be rolled out across all of its routes and that it will be looking to use the trial to “understand customer experience preferences, system performance [and to gather] customer feedback”…but I’m not sure just how much Delta is going to learn with this particular trial.

If wi-fi is free then clearly a lot of people are going to log in and use it during their flight and it doesn’t take a trial to tell you that.

Yes, Delta will get to see how its 2Ku wi-fi stands up to higher usage but while the trial doesn’t allow passengers to stream it’s not really going to give the airline an accurate view of what the wi-fi service will be like in a real-world scenario (should it be rolled out systemwide).

Unless Delta plans to somehow offer free wi-fi without streaming and paid wi-fi for those who wish to stream to their devices during a flight (something I’m not sure the airline’s 2Ku systems can arrange) then they’re going to have to offer free streaming before they get an accurate picture of how good or bad a free wi-fi service will actually be.

Questions about the merits of the test aside however….it’s really good to see Delta taking a positive step to offering free wi-fi onboard its aircraft.

It doesn’t surprise me that Delta is the first of the bigger airlines to start trialing free wi-fi as the other two legacy carriers have long appeared to lack any innovative spirit whatsoever but, from a positive point of view, where Delta goes the others often follow so perhaps this is the start of something bigger.

a plane taking off from a runway

Bottom Line

I’m going to be very interested to see how this wi-fi trial works out and I’d love to hear from any readers who happen to find themselves on one of the flights offering free wi-fi. Will the wi-fi be usable when most people onboard the aircraft are browsing the internet or will the speeds be reminiscent of the early days of dial-up access?

Hopefully the results of the trial are positive and give Delta encouragement to press forward with more trials with a view to offering free wi-fi across all of its routes…but only if the speeds are acceptable.

Given the choice of painfully slow free wi-fi and a paid service that’s actually usable I’ll take the latter option every time.