Delta Air Lines will test offering free inflight Wi-Fi on 55 domestic daily flights this month. They plan to test the service for two weeks, starting on May 13th. The airline will allow customers to use the Wi-Fi for free as long as they do not stream media. Delta has not named the specific routes it will run the test on, however, short, medium, and long-haul routes are included. Furthermore, customers who have tickets on the test flights will be notified ahead of time. On the other hand, Delta believes the tests are the “first step toward realizing its vision” of offering free inflight Wi-Fi. Nevertheless, the airline admits that there will be “several more” tests before the service is offered on every Delta flight. As of now, JetBlue is the only U.S. airline that offers free inflight Wi-Fi.
In an interview, Delta said that offering free Wi-Fi in the air is a “highly complex” problem to solve as it increases the number of people who use it, weakening the plane’s connection. In fact, Gogo (which provides connectivity on Delta flights) reported in an SEC filing that only 12% of passengers used inflight Wi-Fi in 2018. Therefore, an increase in that number could seriously affect a plane’s bandwidth and thus result in slower speeds. Gogo also stated in that filing that it’s already facing network capacity constraints in the U.S and expects demand to increase.
Regardless of the time it will take Delta to complete the tests, the airline’s ability to offer free inflight Wi-Fi will depend on Gogo’s ability to improve its network. In other words, Gogo will lose Delta if they are unable to fix the problem. This would be a great loss to Gogo as the company makes most of its money by selling bandwidth to airlines. In fact, 23% of Gogo’s revenue in 2018 came from Delta flights, and the service provider stated that it expects revenue from airlines to keep growing as they will need more bandwidth to support free inflight Wi-Fi. Therefore, Gogo will to its best to fix the problem.