Delta Air Lines is rolling out free Wi-Fi to most of its planes starting February 1.
“It’s going to be free, it’s going to be fast and it’s going to be accessible to everyone,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He added that the airline invested more than $1 billion in Wi-Fi technology in recent years.
Passengers must be a member of its free SkyMiles loyalty program to access the internet on board. Non-member customers must pay a flat fee of $10.
More than 500 of Delta’s domestic narrow-body planes serving the airline’s “most popular routes” will be free Wi-Fi ready at launch, the company said. International and smaller regional wide-body jets will come online by the end of 2024.
Customers will know if their flight has free Wi-Fi by marking it at the boarding gate. They can also connect to several devices at the same time.
The announcement, made Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show, is several years in the making. Bastian said in 2018 that providing free Wi-Fi across the fleet was a priority, but needed time to improve the technology so that passengers did not have to struggle with slow speeds.
Delta currently charges nearly $50 per month for Wi-Fi on its North American flights and $70 on international flights. It has tested free Wi-Fi in recent years, and made messaging free in 2017.
In-flight internet on any airline has long been plagued by complaints for its inconsistent speeds. However, efforts by a number of satellite providers and airlines have helped the technology to develop significantly over the past decade – although it still has some catching up to do with home and office networks.
Delta is the first of the big three airlines to offer free Wi-Fi: United Airlines and American Airlines (AAL) both charge different prices for access. JetBlue (JBLU) has offered free Wi-Fi since 2017.
The airline is betting that adding free Wi-Fi could make passengers more loyal to Delta and further expand its loyalty program, which has about 100 million members. In October 2022, Delta partnered with Starbucks (SBUX) and began awarding 1 mile for every $1 spent at the coffee chain.
Bastian predicted the partnership would add 1 million SkyMiles members within a year. However, Delta ended up adding 1 million new members within two weeks of its launch.