Delta has been talking up free wifi for years, but they didn’t have enough bandwidth on their planes. When you make wifi free, more people use it, and that slows down the service. Ditching Gogo for ViaSat solves for this.
Gradually they’ve been rolling out free wifi, first for SkyMiles elites, then for all SkyMiles members, and starting February 1 it’ll be for everyone on domestic flights.
- However this won’t be on all planes. Airbus A220s and Boeing 717s don’t have ViaSat, so they aren’t ready to flip the switch on those. And it won’t yet be available on widebody aircraft, either.
- That, too, will change as all domestic flights should have free wifi by the end of 2023, and all Delta aircraft – even regional jets – are planned to offer free wifi by the end of 2024.
JetBlue offers free, fast internet. Southwest is improving its internet speeds and charges $8. $6 – $8 is generally the cost of inflight wifi for those who charge, except on American where it’s more expensive.
American Airlines doesn’t even have free texting. They announced it at Investor & Media Day in September 2017 and then hoped no one would notice when they didn’t follow through. They decided it was too expensive.
However American was prepared to match whatever Delta did back in 2019. They had several versions of the plan ready to go, so that they would follow Delta’s script exactly. That’s before Delta determined they couldn’t yet support the offering.
I always believe American should go first. Delta was going to get there. It was inevitable. American already had ViaSat in most of its domestic narrowbodies, so they were in a position to be the first global airline to offer wifi for free. They’ve squandered that. Now the question is, will they match?
They may not think they have to, since United Airlines can’t. While CEO Scott Kirby has talked about wifi eventually being free, and they promised to retrofit their domestic fleet with seat back entertainment and fast wifi but they haven’t done that yet – at all. In the meantime, United has the least functional internet among U.S. carriers (other than Frontier and Allegiant, which do not offer it at all). Until they have more bandwidth, they’re at a disadvantage.
Meanwhile, Delta becomes materially less expensive to fly even at the same fare. On other airlines you’ll have to pay the ticket cost plus wifi. That’s a built in competitive advantage for an airline which has struggled operationally compared to its own past performance, but which still edged out other carriers overall in 2022. This helps cement their reputation as the premium carrier, which remains the reason they’re able to succeed in spite of intentionally offering less value in the SkyMiles program.
Once an airline has solved the bandwidth issue, it makes sense to bundle internet into the ticket cost, which is why I predicted in 2012 that onboard internet would be free within ten years. The pandemic, sadly, pushed that out to eleven.