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Delta Air Lines Introduces Free WiFi on Domestic Flights: Should All Domestic Airlines Do the Same?

by Aoife O’Riordan

Jan 18, 2023

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eFlyer Lead

Beginning Feb. 1, Delta Air Lines will become the first major U.S. airline to offer fast and free WiFi to all passengers, thanks to the airline’s partnership with T-Mobile. The airline also hopes to provide free WiFi on international and regional aircraft by the end of 2024.

“At work, at home and everywhere in between, connectivity is essential to daily life, and your journey on Delta should be no different,” said Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines. “Our vision has long been to deliver an experience at 30,000 feet that feels similar to what our customers have available on the ground.”

Passengers on Delta aircraft can log in using their Delta SkyMiles account, join SkyMiles on the ground or create an account in the air for free to connect to WiFi. Delta Air Lines worked with engineers from Viasat, a satellite internet service provider, to provide best-in-class, in-flight connectivity. Delta Air Lines expects to offer the free WiFi service on more than 700 Viasat-equipped aircraft by the end of 2023.

The recent announcement of Delta Air Lines’ adoption of free WiFi on domestic flights now begs the question: Why don’t all airlines offer free WiFi on domestic flights? Apart from Delta Air Lines, JetBlue is the only other airline offering free, high-speed WiFi at every seat on the plane. The airline introduced free WiFi back in 2017 and continues to offer it into 2023.

All JetBlue-operated flights provide coverage over the continental United States and, more recently, the airline now offers expanded coverage over much of Central America and the Caribbean. JetBlue’s Airbus A321 Long Range aircraft allows guests to enjoy expanded coverage to and from London, as well.

Aside from these two airlines, passengers on other airlines either must pay a fee to access WiFi or, for those unwilling to pay, choose to unplug for the duration of the flight. Outside of the United States, only a few international airlines provide free WiFi. Emirates provides it to Emirates Skywards members; Qantas offers passengers free WiFi on all domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 flights within Australia; Air New Zealand features free WiFi onboard all of its Airbus 320neo jets; and Norwegian Airlines offers unlimited access on shorter intra-European flights.

Some airlines, like Aer Lingus and Philippine Airlines, provide free WiFi for select passengers or for a selected amount of time. Passengers traveling business class on Aer Lingus, as well as AerClub Concierge members, enjoy free WiFi. On select international Philippine Airlines’ flights, passengers can access 30 minutes of free WiFi or 15MB of data.

One argument against free WiFi focuses on the issue of too many users, which can result in less bandwidth per passenger. Too many users could crash the system, leaving everyone without access. Moreover, airlines receive additional income from passengers willing to pay for in-flight WiFi.

But, in an age where technology continues to advance at exponential speeds, many wonder why airlines choose not to better WiFi systems. For one, the process of switching out systems requires time and money, as many aircraft must be taken out of rotation to have new systems installed.

As Delta Air Lines implements free WiFi starting in February, we can see whether or not the initiative proves effective and worthwhile. After all, sometimes disconnecting from the rest of the world while thousands of the feet in the sky can serve as a nice break.

Do you think more airlines should offer free WiFi? Do you pay for WiFi when flying? What are the benefits/drawbacks of airlines implementing free WiFi service? Tell us your thoughts. Email us at [email protected]. Please include your full name and location.

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