Delta launches free Wi-Fi

At CES, Delta Air Lines today announced that it will launch free Wi-Fi for all members of its SkyMiles frequent flier program starting February 1. This free service, which the company is launching in partnership with T-Mobile, will be available in the majority of the company's domestic, Viasat-enabled mainline aircraft first, with full availability across its regional aircraft and on international flights by the end of 2024.

“At work, at home and everywhere in between, connectivity is essential to daily life, and your journey on Delta should be no different,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian at CES 2023 in Las Vegas. “Our vision has long been to deliver an experience at 30,000 feet that feels close to what our customers have available on the ground.”

Image Credits: Delta

Since more users will likely make use of this free service than ever paid for it, the airline put a lot of emphasis on hardening its systems in recent months. Delta said it worked with engineers at Viasat to test and scale its in-flight connectivity service to enable this rollout.

"We didn’t just want free Wi-Fi to offer base-level service — we wanted it to be transformative for the entire onboard experience," said Bastian. "It is imperative all customers onboard can enjoy their favorite content just as they would at home, and we’ve put this system through meticulous tests to make that possible."

MediaLink's Michael Kassan and Delta's Ed Bastian at CES 2023. Image Credits: Sarah Perez/TechCrunch

To use this service, fliers have to be members of Delta's SkyMiles frequent flier service (though as a spokesperson told me, they'll be able to sign up an account while on the plane, too). Even though this service is rolling out in partnership with T-Mobile, you don't have to be a T-Mobile customer to use it.

"It's going to be available to everyone," Bastian said today. "Doesn't matter what price you paid for your seat, what class of service you chose, what credit card you used, what mobile carrier you're connected to -- it's going to be free to all and it's something that is so important to the way. The good news is there's no fine print. It's free."

One thing worth noting, as Bastian confirmed in his keynote today, the free Wi-Fi will extend to however many devices you have with you, not just a single phone or laptop.

A lot of other airlines are also now moving in this direction, be that in a more limited form by offering free access to messaging apps (as Delta already did) or by partnering with telcos to offer free Wi-Fi for their customers. United, for example, offers free Wi-Fi for T-Mobile customers on most flights these days.

With this, Delta is also launching Delta Sync, its unified brand for its software, connectivity and in-flight entertainment offerings. In many ways, this builds around the company's announcements since it first attended CES in 2018. The idea here is to offer fliers a more personalized service using, for the most part, its mobile app, as well as new airport experiences, all linked to a flier's SkyMiles account. This includes Delta's (optional) facial recognition-based boarding system, which it is currently trialing in Atlanta and Detroit but also the new free Wi-Fi offering and new entertainment offers that will only be available to SkyMiles members.

Indeed, the new Delta Sync on Demand will provide fliers with a personalized seatback entertainment system that is more akin to the smart TV they have at home, Delta promises. For now, on top of the entertainment content, this will include food and beverage ordering in first class, a new journey planned, content recommendations and real-time notifications. The airline plans to start rolling some of the initial features of this system out by the end of the year, though many of the personalization features will only launch after that.

As Bastian also today noted, Paramount+ is going to be a partner with free Paramount+ streaming on board Delta's plane. These new Delta Sync experiences will roll out over the course of 2023.

"Delta Sync elevates what it means to be a Delta SkyMiles Member by enabling a journey that fits you perfectly and grows more rewarding the more you travel," said Bastian. "The future of travel is one where your digital and physical experiences come together in a seamless, warm and personal way, making those human travel connections even more meaningful."

Read more about CES 2023 on TechCrunch
Read more about CES 2023 on TechCrunch