Should American And United Follow Delta’s Free WiFi Offering?

The question of whether or not American and United should follow Delta’s lead with their free WiFi offering is somewhat bewildering. The idea that other carriers could even consider charging for WiFi when a competitor is offering it for free is unfathomable.

Delta first carbon neutral flight
Delta to offer free WiFi on all flights.Photo:Delta

The truth is that the Internet is now a major part of all our lives and will continue to grow as it develops alongside other new technology.

Wireless connectivity was a game-changer for the internet, as it not only allowed multiple users in a household to be online at the same time, it now meant that you could find free hotspots all over town.

In fact, the city I live in is a part of a European Union project called the Digital Cities Challenge, a program designed to develop and implement digital policies. These can transform day to day life for residents, businesses, workers, and entrepreneurs.

What this means for me and other residents is that we will have free WiFi in every public building and park throughout the city. I can only see access to free WiFi growing and. hopefully, to become the norm around the world.

The point I am trying to make is that the days of charging to use the Internet while flying are coming to an end. Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian gets this, and even talked about it last year at a Skift Global Forum in New York City.

Delta’s CEO understands what his customers want

The Delta boss rightly stated that his airline’s customers, above all else, want free and fast WiFi. He pointed out that he knew of nowhere else besides an airplane where you cannot get free WiFi.

Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian investor conference
Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian knows what passengers want. Photo: Delta

When talking about a new wireless system Delta was putting on its new Airbus A220, Bastian said,

“A wireless IFE is great because it means we don’t have to wire the planes anymore, we just put the tablet on the back of the seat headrest as a display panel.”

The advantage over this is huge both in terms of money and maintenance. If there is a problem with one screen, it can easily be repaired or replaced without having to shut down the entire system.

It’s not just a case of flipping a switch

True to their word. Delta offered free WiFi on select routes for two weeks in May. Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta’s Director of Onboard Product released a statement that read,

“Customers are accustomed to having access to free WiFi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too. Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right – this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch.”

Delta wi-fi
It will take more testing before free Wi-Fi is available. Photo: Delta

Dimbiloglu went on to say that the free WiFi initiative would likely involve several more test phases and that customer feedback would be important.

“As with any test in uncharted territory, Delta will rely heavily on customer and employee feedback to navigate how to best make free in-flight WiFi a reality.”


Currently, 11 airlines around the world offer free WiFi to their customers, but only one of them is in the US. JetBlue has offered free Wi-Fi on their flights since January 2017.

child on deltta flight with tablet
Delta knows how important free WiFi is. Photo: Delta

Delta has seen the growing trend around the world in offering free WiFi. It knows that if it doesn’t keep up, it will lose passengers to airlines that do offer the service.

When speaking to CNBC, Kelly Soderlund, a travel trends expert with Hipmunk, brought up the Millennial factor saying,

“Millennials and younger generations expect free WiFi access everywhere, especially when they are traveling. Much like hotels, which have been successful in leveraging consumer loyalty through free WiFi, I would expect airlines to follow suit and meet that demand.”

The bottom line here is that no matter how much they do not want to give up the revenue they are making from charging for WiFi on flights, both American Airlines, and United will have to follow Delta’s lead, or risk losing passengers.

We reached out to Delta asking them when they thought the free WiFi would be up and running and also what kind of speeds we could expect.

Here is their reply: “Hi Mark – hope all is well. Thanks for reaching out on this. While we did do an initial test, we need to conduct more testing in the months ahead to determine the best way to move forward with offering free Wi-Fi for Delta customers.”