Here’s why Delta still isn’t offering free WiFi

Back in May, the US carrier ran a trial of free WiFi on board around 55 domestic flights to see how it would work. At the time, we had high hopes that it would be a short hop from here to rolling out free WiFi to the entire Delta fleet. Clearly this hasn’t happened, so what’s stopping Delta?

Delta free inflight WiFi
Delta’s free inflight WiFi is still some time off. Photo: Delta

Gogo’s system is not ready

According to reporting from Skift, Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian shed some light on the delays to the rollout at the recent Skift Forum in New York. He told Skift,

“There were some successes. There were some things we found out that we hoped not to find out, in terms of the work needed until we can go for free.”

Delta free inflight WiFi
More than the flip of a switch. Image: Delta

Although with issues like this it’s often a case of money, Bastian was positive that its technology and not economics that’s stopping Delta from dishing out free WiFi. While Delta is achieving good results for the handful of passengers who are paying for inflight WiFi, maintaining that speed and quality when everyone connects, potentially with several devices at once, is a whole new ballgame.

“It is really just a question of technical. It is not economics. I am nervous that if we turned it on, it’s going to cause system outages,” he said.

While it would be easy to see Bastian’s remarks as a slight on Gogo, it’s probably not that clear cut. Delta remains positive that Gogo will be able to meet the demands of its passengers, but is unwilling to roll out a subpar product until the technology is there.

Delta free inflight WiFi
60% of Delta’s mainline fleet is WiFi equipped. Photo: Delta

Delta currently has most of its fleet equipped with WiFi, with around 60% of the mainline aircraft using 2Ku high speed satellite connections. As quoted by Business Insider, Bastian said,

“We’re well on our way, that Wi-Fi is going to be ubiquitous and have high capacity capabilities. That’s still our goal, and we’re not backing down from that.”

Gogo sees a clear path

Although the challenge to upscale from paid WiFi for a few to free WiFi for all is a big one, Gogo remains positive that it will happen. Speaking to PaxEx.Aero, CEO of Gogo, Oakleigh Thorne, was optimistic about future developments, saying,

“The teams are working very collaboratively. We’re looking at a very significant ramp in what we think the take rates will be. We’re busy scaling to make sure the system will handle it properly. We lease capacity, so we’re scaling our capacity up.”

Delta free inflight WiFi
Gogo remains positive free WiFi will be achievable soon. Photo: Delta

While adding satellite capacity would be the clear answer, this comes at great expense and with a long lead time. Gogo, however, doesn’t think this is the only solution. Thorne told PaxEx that other things need scalding too, from portals to ground gateways and everything in between.

However, the communications company remains positive that it has adequate access to Ku-band capacity to meet the demands of Delta’s data-hungry passengers. It seems as though, right not, it’s simply a question of when, not if, Gogo will be able to accommodate Delta’s free WiFi dream.

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