The passenger cabin on a Delta Boeing 737-900ER is shown while landing in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Delta Air Lines will offer travelers free Wi-Fi starting Feb. 1, after years of studying the possibility.
Most U.S. flights will introduce the service next month, but it will become available on more each week, CEO Ed Bastian said during a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Delta said in a release later Thursday that its free Wi-Fi, through a sponsorship from T-Mobile, will be available on more than 700 planes by the end of 2023 and on international and regional aircraft by the end of next year.
“It’s free. There’s no fine print,” Bastian said Thursday. “We have invested over $1 billion to create this.”
Delta’s plan to make internet access free will ramp up pressure on rivals as airlines compete for customers in the travel rebound following the pandemic slump nearly three years ago. Delta executives have repeatedly said that the airline is aiming for higher-paying customers and that revenue from premium cabins like business class has outpaced revenue growth in standard coach.
Travelers will access the free internet service by logging in with their Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer account information, Bastian added. Though passengers will need a SkyMiles account, it’s free to be a member.
Delta last March said it was outfitting more of its planes with fast Wi-Fi from Viasat and made it available for a $5 flat fee. The carrier already offers free messaging.
Most airlines charge for Wi-Fi: United Airlines charges $8 for members of its frequent flyer program and $10 to other customers, and Southwest Airlines charges $8. It’s free on JetBlue, which has some corporate sponsorships for the service, and Hawaiian Airlines is planning to offer free internet with SpaceX’s Starlink this year.
American Airlines‘ Wi-Fi service starts at $10 and varies depending on the route, though last April, the carrier and its provider, Viasat, started trialing free Wi-Fi for some customers.
Airline executives have been hesitant to offer free Wi-Fi service until it is more reliable.
Delta also said Thursday it will unveil new in-flight entertainment systems, starting this summer. Passenger preferences “will travel with you from flight to flight, and even remember where you left off on a movie,” Delta said in a release.
The company is working with Paramount+ for passenger entertainment, as well as American Express, Delta’s partner in its lucrative co-branded credit card line, and the card company’s reservations platform Resy as the airline banks on personalization and partnerships outside of flights from food to ground transportation.