CES 2020: Bastian reaffirms Delta Air Lines’ free WiFi promise

Last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas saw Delta Air Lines unveiling a swathe of new technology. CEO Ed Bastian delivered a keynote speech at the event, and also took the opportunity to reveal what Delta Air Lines will be bringing to aviation in order to make the travel experience just that little bit better.

Delta free WiFi
Free WiFi is still on the cards for Delta. Photo: Delta

One of the most exciting innovations was Delta’s Parallel Reality. Using biometrics, the airline plans to serve up personalized information on screens to multiple passengers at once. The technology is going into testing in Detroit Metropolitan later this year.

Along with this was an announcement of a revamp to its inflight entertainment, including a ‘binge’ button, a robotic arm for ground staff and various improvements to its app and operations. However, one thing that was notably absent from all Delta’s announcements was the long promised benefit of free onboard WiFi.

Does Delta still promise free WiFi for all?

Delta has publicly floated its commitment to offering free WiFi since 2018. Although Delta was in no position to make a big announcement at CES this year, Bastian was still positive that things would be coming soon. In his keynote address, he commented,

“Wi-Fi should be free on all flights. I’m confident we will reach that goal within the next couple of years at speeds as fast as on the ground.”

Bastian has been reluctant to launch free WiFi before the technology is capable of supporting it. He wants not just a connection, but a darn good connection. As such, he has held off rolling it out until he is confident that passengers will be happy with the experience.

However, it seems that the end goal is still to bring free WiFi, although Bastian has not pinned a timeline to his aim. At least for the foreseeable future, it seems JetBlue will maintain its position as the only US airline offering full free WiFi throughout all its aircraft.

Delta free WiFi
Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian gave a keynote speech at CES. Photo: Delta

Bastian says his team is working hard on making its paid for WiFi service faster, and that Delta won’t be rolling out free WiFi until they get that absolutely right. USA Today reports that Bastian says he is confident that they’ll have it ready “in the next couple of years”.

Bringing the magic back

Bastian claims the airline wants to bring ‘magic’ back to air travel. His vision for the future of PaxEx involves more partnerships, more interactivity and more connections with his passengers.

One of the partnerships noted at CES 2020 is based on a new nugget in the Delta app; something Bastian calls a ‘personal concierge’. One of the key elements of this is that it will allow passengers to order and interact with Lyft via the app, and will even let passengers accrue Delta miles when using the ridesharing service.

Delta App
The revamp to Delta’s app promises to let you know when your seat, not just your flight, is boarding. Photo: Delta

Other integrations see passengers being notified when their bags are loaded onto the plane, as well as using AI for seamless security screening. Passengers can even be kept up to date on weather conditions and, in the future, could arrange for their bags to be taken directly to their hotels.

Of course, all this will come at a cost, and would be far more intriguing if Delta was able to crack the old free WiFi nut. However, having reported record profits over the past year, Delta’s deep pockets could potentially drive positive change sooner than we think.

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