Delta's CEO says the airline is getting closer to offering free Wi-Fi on board

Delta air linesShutterstock / Markus Mainka

  • Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on Wednesday that the airline was getting closer to being able to offer free Wi-Fi on every flight.
  • Bastian, speaking at Skift Forum, said the challenge was figuring out how to handle the higher capacity that would come with making Wi-Fi free, while ensuring that connection speeds stay at the levels they're at today for paying users.
  • The airline conducted a trial in May. Bastian said "we learned a lot."
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Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on Wednesday that free Wi-Fi on board is coming soon.

"We're working on it," he said.

Speaking in New York at the Skift Forum, a travel industry conference, Bastian said that the airline was working to get the on-board Wi-Fi bandwidth to a point that it could handle a plane full of users without sacrificing the high speeds that paying users can currently access on board.

Bastian first announced that the airline would offer free Wi-Fi in October 2018, also at Skift Forum. In March 2019, Bastian told Barron's that it could take "another year or two to make that happen."

In May, Delta announced that it would begin testing free high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi on select domestic flights, with the test "designed to understand customer experience preferences, system performance, customer feedback and more." The airline warned, however, that "due to the complexity of the project, it will likely take several more test phases and lots of listening to ensure the free product Delta delivers, adds value."

"We learned a lot," Bastian said about the May trial. "There were some successes, and some things we found out in terms of more work needed. But every step we take, we're getting better and learning more along the way."

"Up in the sky, we're traveling at 500 mph," he added. Down here, we're stationary, so it's a lot easier."

Bastian said that the main delay has been ensuring that connectivity speeds can remain consistent with what's available to paying users today, despite more people being connected.

See also: Apply here to attend IGNITION: Transportation, an event focused on the future of transportation, in San Francisco on October 22.

"It's really just a question of technical depths," he said. "I'm worried that if we turned it on now, it's going to cause system outages."

Bastian insisted, however, that Delta and Gogo - the airline's Wi-Fi provider - were making progress toward figuring out how to effectively offer free high-speed Wi-Fi used by everyone on-board.

"We're not there yet, but Gogo and Delta, working together, have dramatically improved the overall performance of Wi-Fi on our planes," he said.

The airline currently has on-board Wi-Fi available across most of its fleet, with about 60% of its mainline aircraft featuring 2Ku high-speed satellite-based connectivity.

"We're well on our way, that Wi-Fi is going to be ubiquitous and have high capacity capabilities," Bastian said. "That's still our goal, and we're not backing down from that."

"You will have it soon."

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