Delta Is About to Test Free Wi-Fi on 55 Flights Daily – Travel+Leisure

Delta Is About to Test Free Wi-Fi on 55 Flights Daily - Travel+Leisure
Delta to test free Wi-Fi on flights
Delta calls the tests the first step toward realizing its vision of offering free, in-flight Wi-Fi, though it admits there will likely be several more phases before any actual rollout happens. Currently, JetBlue is the only US airline that offers free Wi-Fi.

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.

Gogos latest satellite-based system called 2Ku, replaced older cellular-based connectivity for improved reliability and bandwidth. Deployment of 2Ku started as early as 2015 but its only recently that youre bound to find more aircrafts equipped with the antennas. The difference between cellular-based ATG (Air-To-Ground) systems and 2Ku should be night and day. Coming from 3.1 Mbit/s (for the entire aircraft) on first-gen ATG, to 9.8 Mbit/s in ATG-4 and up to 70 Mbit/s on 2Ku.

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.

“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,” said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Director of Onboard Product. “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.”

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.

According to Gogo, who provide internet service to Delta and other major airlines, only 12% of passengers across the airlines they serve currently pay for Wi-Fi. This is bound to increase substantially the minute the service is open to all. Low-cost airline JetBlue started offering free Wi-Fi to all passengers in 2017 and remain the only major U.S. airline to do so at no charge.

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.

Delta will run the two-week pilot in aircrafts equipped with 2Ku antennas only. The selected flights will change daily as part of the test, while passengers will be notified that their flight is part of the test run via email, the Delta mobile app, and prior to their flight.

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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.