While it hasnt named the specific routes it will run the test on, Delta says short, medium, and long-haul routes are included. Customers who have tickets on the test flights will be notified ahead of time either by email or via the companys mobile app.
Video: Delta testing free wi-fi on domestic flights
Offering free Wi-Fi in the air is a highly complex problem to solve, according to Delta, likely because removing fees could dramatically increase the number of people who use it, which, in turn, could stress the planes connection. As The Wall Street Journal points out, Gogo (which provides connectivity on Delta flights) recently reported in an SEC filing that just 12 percent of passengers used in-flight Wi-Fi in 2018. An increase in that number could choke a planes bandwidth and result in slower speeds.
Gogo also said in that filing that its already facing network capacity constraints in the US, and it expects demand to increase — especially if airlines decide to stop charging for in-flight Wi-Fi. Regardless of how long Delta takes to complete its tests, the airlines ability to offer free in-flight Wi-Fi might largely depend on Gogos ability to build out its network. If Gogo cant, Delta has the ability to walk away from its contract with the provider in favor of one of its competitors (like satellite company ViaSat), according to the filing.
Of course, Gogo makes a lot of its money by selling the bandwidth to airlines, so the company is deeply incentivized to make sure it can handle more users. Delta flights already accounted for 23 percent of Gogos revenue in 2018, and the service provider said it expects revenue from airlines to keep growing as they need more bandwidth to support free in-flight Wi-Fi.
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Wi-Fi has been available on most flights for a while — at a cost. Delta is taking steps toward offering it for free.
The Atlanta-based airline carrier will start testing free Wi-Fi service on 55 domestic flights a day starting Monday, the company said Thursday in a statement. Its current Wi-Fi plans start with a 24-hour pass for $16 if purchased prior to boarding the flight. It also offers monthly and annual internet passes.
Before travelers on Delta start planning to binge Netflix shows for the entire flight, there are caveats to this test. The airline is limiting internet access to email, shopping, web browsing, messaging services and social media.
“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,” Ekrem Dimbiloglu, director of onboard product, said in the statement. “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.”
Passengers will find out if their flight will offer free Wi-Fi via email or a push notification on the Fly Delta app.