“It’s going to be free, it’s going to be fast and its going to be available for everyone,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Thursday at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He added that the airline invested more than $1 billion in Wi-Fi technology over the past few years.
Passengers will need to be a member of its free SkyMiles loyalty program to access the on-board internet. Customers who aren’t members will have to pay a flat fee of $5.
Roughly 80% of Delta’s domestic narrow-body planes will be ready for free Wi-Fi at launch, the company said. Wide-body international and smaller regional jets will be coming online by the end of 2024.
The announcement, made Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show, is several years in the making. Bastian said in 2018 that offering free Wi-Fi across its fleet was a priority, but needed time to improve the technology so passengers wouldn’t have to struggle with sluggish speeds.
Delta currently charges nearly $50 per month for Wi-Fi on its flights within North America and $70 on international flights. It has been testing free Wi-Fi over the past several years, and made messaging free in 2017.
In-flight internet on any airline has been long plagued by complaints for its inconsistent speeds. However, efforts by a host of satellite providers and airlines have helped the technology evolve significantly in the past decade — though it still has some catching up to do to compare to home and office networks.
Delta is the first of the “Big Three” airlines to offer free Wi-Fi: United Airlines (UAL) and American Airlines (AAL) both charge varying rates for access. JetBlue (JBLU) has offered free Wi-Fi since 2017.
The airline is beting that adding free W-Fi could make passengers more loyal to Delta and further grow 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.