Delta Air Lines is reportedly planning to make in-flight Wi-Fi free on a “significant portion” of its planes starting early next year, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The company has reportedly been running tests where anyone who’s a member of its free-to-join SkyMiles rewards program gets free access to the internet while in the air, but it seems as if that perk may become much more widely available soon.
Delta is expected to roll out the free Wi-Fi to an increasing number of planes in its fleet throughout 2023, according to the Journal. If it does, it could solve one of the major pain points of trying to stay connected while flying: inconsistency — not in the sense that in-flight Wi-Fi can often be unreliable or slow, which will likely still be a problem, but more in the way that different flights can often have different connectivity options even within the same airline, so it’s hard to tell how much you’ll have to pay to get online or if you’ll even be able to at all.
To use Delta as an example, it currently uses two internet providers: Intelsat and Viasat. (It also tested out SpaceX’s Starlink, but it doesn’t seem like that’ll be coming anytime soon.) While its paid subscription works with both, people with certain T-Mobile plans can get free internet on a limited number of flights, and everyone can send some types of messages for free on most flights.
While those caveats may be easy to remember compared to trying to figure out what one particular TSA agent will ask you for today, the point is that it’s not as simple as just logging in to the Wi-Fi and getting online. Delta has known that’s a problem for a while now; it started testing free internet service in 2019, saying that its “vision” was to bring the feature to all of its flights one day.
In recent years, airlines have been noticeably competing on tech in hopes of winning over customers. JetBlue has offered free Wi-Fi on its flights since 2017, Hawaiian Airlines has partnered with Starlink, United and Delta have been looking to make it easy for customers to use Bluetooth headphones for the in-flight entertainment, and almost every company is adding content from popular streaming services to their seatback displays or in-flight web portals. But while select video content and Spotify can help pass the time, nothing compares to just being able to use (a slower and worse version of) the internet on your own device. Hopefully that’ll be a no-brainer on Delta flights in the near future.