August 12, 2022

There’s no denying that inflight connectivity has come a long way. First we saw airlines introduce inflight Wi-Fi in the first place. Then we saw the speed of inflight Wi-Fi greatly improved, so that it’s similar to connectivity on the ground. Lately the focus has increasingly been on making inflight Wi-Fi free.

While JetBlue has been leading the way among US airlines when it comes to offering free inflight Wi-Fi, it looks like Delta will soon become the first global US airline to offer free inflight Wi-Fi. While Delta management has been talking about this for years, it’s now close to becoming a reality.

Delta will offer free inflight Wi-Fi “soon”

As reported by Thrifty Traveler, Delta has revealed some updates about the progress of free inflight Wi-Fi in an internal memo:

  • Delta plans to launch complimentary Wi-Fi on all domestic mainline flights “soon” (unfortunately regional jets won’t get this free service)
  • Delta plans to launch complimentary Wi-Fi on international routes by the end of 2024

Delta has been offering free inflight messaging for a long time now, but the intent is that free inflight Wi-Fi will allow passengers to enjoy unlimited internet access for the entire flight, with no data caps.

Delta has this month started trialing free inflight Wi-Fi on select flights, presumably as a further test. It sounds like we should expect this to be expanded to all mainline Delta jets in the near future. While we don’t have an exact date yet, things seem to be moving along nicely.

Delta will offer free inflight Wi-Fi soon

Why it has taken Delta time to launch free inflight Wi-Fi

Delta’s management has consistently been talking about introducing free inflight Wi-Fi for several years now, so what has taken so long? It comes down to technology. In 2019 Delta conducted some free inflight Wi-Fi trials, but found that the system being used at the time couldn’t support the increased usage when there was no cost to use the service. After all, bandwidth is a bit more limited at 35,000 feet than on the ground.

While Delta had historically worked with Gogo on Wi-Fi, the airline knew that this wouldn’t work in the long run, if the goal was to provide free Wi-Fi. In early 2021, it was announced that Delta would transition to Viasat. The airline is installing Viasat Wi-Fi on 300+ mainline narrow body jets, and good progress has been made with this.

With Viasat it’s much more realistic for Delta to offer free Wi-Fi, since this is the same system you’ll find on JetBlue (which has been offering free Wi-Fi for years).

Delta’s switch to Viasat makes free Wi-Fi realistic

Expect American to offer free Wi-Fi as well

In the US airline industry we see a lot of copying between airlines. While Delta was the first of the “big three” US carriers committed to offering free Wi-Fi, there have been widespread rumors that American will match.

American also has Viasat installed on most of its narrow body jets, so there shouldn’t be too many technological limitations here. It’s anyone’s guess when American matches, but I think it’s a sure bet that it will happen eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens around the same time that Delta introduces it, just to steal a bit of the Atlanta-based carrier’s thunder.

Unfortunately United is still quite a ways off from offering free Wi-Fi, since the carrier has the weakest overall Wi-Fi offering of the three airlines.

Expect American to also eventually offer free Wi-Fi

Bottom line

While we still don’t have an exact date, it’s expected that Delta will roll out free Wi-Fi on all mainline narrow body jets “soon,” with a plan to roll this out on international flights by the end of 2024. My guess is that Delta plans to roll this out by the fall, but that’s only speculation on my part.

While JetBlue has been doing this for years, it’s exciting to think that some global US carriers could soon offer free Wi-Fi as well.

What do you make of Delta offering free inflight Wi-Fi, and when do you think it will happen?

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