Delta adds another in-flight Wi-Fi provider

Delta Air Lines announced Tuesday it is adding Viasat as an in-flight Wi-Fi provider, a move that’s intended to improve the service and bring the airline closer to being able to offer it for free at some point in the future.

Atlanta-based Delta said it will continue to use its current provider Gogo for Wi-Fi on some of its jets.

But, starting this summer, the airline will put Viasat’s Ka-band high-speed satellite technology on more than 300 narrow-body planes, including Boeing 737-900ERs, some of its Boeing 757-200s and its new Airbus A321ceo jets. It also will have the option of adding the service to more aircraft.

The new technology will allow faster and more consistent connections and streaming — “a Wi-Fi experience closer to what you would find at home or work,” according to Delta’s director of brand experience, Ekrem Dimbiloglu. This summer, Delta also will roll out a new portal it is developing for passengers to connect to in-flight-Wi-Fi.

The Viasat Wi-Fi will cost $6 an hour or $10 a flight, according to a statement from Delta, which said it is “focused on offering simple and consistent pricing on Viasat-equipped aircraft.” Mobile messaging and seat-back entertainment will still be free, though Delta has not updated its movies or shows since April “due to the impacts of the pandemic.”

Gogo has variable pricing, including passes sold in advance for $7 for one hour and $19 for all-day access.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said more than two years ago that he wants to eventually make in-flight Wi-Fi free, but that it could take two to three years to make that happen. The company ran a free Wi-Fi pilot project in 2019, but Bastian said the airline had to be sure its technology could handle the demand.

On Tuesday, Dimbiloglu said in a written statement that the company has “had to shift our focus during the pandemic.” Still, he said, “We are committed to delivering free Wi-Fi in the future, and this is a significant step on that journey.”

Bastian has for years acknowledged in-flight Wi-Fi needs to be improved.

Frequent fliers are familiar with problems with in-flight Wi-Fi reliability and speed, which make it difficult to predict how much they’ll be able to use it during a flight. That’s particularly a problem for business travelers, who may need to get work done during flights and who have been some of the most lucrative customers for airlines.

Last June, Delta reached an agreement with Gogo that allows it to expand its in-flight Wi-Fi providers. Delta believes the competition will improve the service and help to add enough satellite capacity to eventually offer free Wi-Fi.

Meanwhile, the in-flight Wi-Fi provider business has been in turmoil. Gogo in December closed the sale of its commercial aviation in-flight Wi-Fi business for $400 million to satellite company Intelsat, which is reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The sale made Gogo a division of Intelsat.

“To meet our long-term goals, we will work closely with multiple Wi-Fi suppliers, including both Gogo and Viasat,” Glenn Latta , Delta’s managing director of in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi, said in a written statement Tuesday. “Working with multiple partners means we can pair the right technology with the right fleet.”