Delta jet prepares to take off at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Delta to launch two-week test of free Wi-Fi on some flights

Delta Air Lines is taking a major step toward offering free in-flight Wi-Fi by launching a two-week test this month on a small number of its flights.

It could still be years before free in-flight Wi-Fi becomes a reality on the carrier’s flights across the board. Last fall, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said it could be two or three years before the airline’s in-flight Wi-Fi becomes free, because the technology is not yet up to par.

But now, the airline will start to gather data and feedback from passengers on how they might use free Wi-Fi.

Starting May 13, Atlanta-based Delta will test free Wi-Fi on about 55 domestic flights, out of the more than 3,000 flights it operates a day. Customers included in the test will be notified via e-mail or a Delta app notification before their flight and when logging into Wi-Fi on board.

On those particular flights, all passengers on the plane will be able to email and browse the Internet or social media. They will not be able to stream content over the free Wi-Fi being tested, but will still be able to watch free TV and movies on seat-back screens or via Delta Studio streamed to their personal devices. Delta also already offers free in-flight messaging.

“Customers are accustomed to having access to free Wi-Fi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too,” said Delta’s director of onboard product Ekrem Dimbiloglu in a written statement. “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.”

JetBlue Airways already offers free in-flight Wi-Fi sponsored by Amazon. Southwest offers free in-flight Wi-Fi to its A-List Preferred customers.

Delta said the test on its domestic planes equipped with high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi will help it understand customer preferences and system performance, and that it would likely require several more test phases and additional feedback before free Wi-Fi is deployed.

Bastian said last year that “the first thing we need to do is we need to get the technical capability to be able to offer not just free Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi that works as well in the sky as on the ground, in terms of bandwidth and streaming capacity.”

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