Free inflight wifi is set to soar on Delta Air Lines starting next week. The carrier will trial complimentary service for its passengers on approximately 55 flights each day for a two week period as part of what the company calls the “first step toward realizing its vision of offering free in-flight Wi-Fi as part its leading suite of complimentary onboard entertainment options.” The free option will fly on the 2Ku satellite-based system operated by Gogo. Some 60% of Delta’s mainline aircraft carry the 2Ku hardware today.
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. 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.– Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Director of Onboard Product
The company is quick to point out that the complimentary trial will not include streaming content. It will cover other services such as web browsing, email, social media, messaging and more. The company also points out that, while streaming is not included the Delta Studio streaming IFE content selection is substantial and complimentary on board as well. An option to buy up to a streaming level will also be available.
Routes associated with the test flights will vary by day through the test period. Passengers will be notified through emails and push notifications from the Fly Delta app.
Delta Director of Onboard Product Ekrem Dimbiloglu describes the effort as a “test in uncharted territory,” noting that the carrier will “rely heavily on customer and employee feedback to navigate how to best make free in-flight Wi-Fi a reality.” Offering complimentary wifi to all passengers on board is not entirely uncharted territory, however.
JetBlue‘s FlyFi, powered by the Viasat Ka-band satellite service, has been complimentary (including streaming) since the product launched in 2013; it has been available fleet-wide since 2017. Additionally, both Japan Airlines and Virgin Australia offer connectivity to passengers without charge on their Gogo-equipped planes. Delta also has experience with free service for all passengers on a more limited scale. The carrier introduced free access to messaging apps fleet-wide in late 2017.
While free wifi is always a win for passengers Gogo also stands to gain tremendously if the trial converts to a full-scale deployment. The company announced today that take rates are up to 13.9% in North America but revenue per session is dropping. Passengers are taking advantage of the free messaging options on board or the T-Mobile Wingman promotion but not buying up to higher yielding plans. Delivering a significant uptick in take rates – 40% is a more common number when the passenger doesn’t pay for normal browsing – would have a huge impact in terms of revenue for the company, and without significantly increasing costs.
Delta making this move could also deliver a spillover effect to the other US carriers with connectivity today. While JetBlue already offers the service for free to passengers American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines charge for connectivity (Southwest does offer it free for top members of its Rapid Rewards loyalty program). The industry is known for playing follow-the-leader in many respects. With one of the global players making this move the others will be forced to consider a similar play.