Delta Adding Free Wi-Fi to its Flights – What Comes Next?

Delta Adding Free Wi-Fi to its Flights – What Comes Next?

Written by Deepak Bhagat, In Business, Updated On
May 15th, 2024

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Delta Air Lines is looking to add free Wi-Fi to a significant portion of its flights from 2023 onwards. Illustrating a long-awaited development for in-flight technology, Wi-Fi’s exclusion is commonly regarded as a critical frustration with air travel. Representing more incredible cultural shifts towards complete Wi-Fi coverage and new technological opportunities, there’s hope that this move will soon catch on.

Though the desire for in-flight Wi-Fi has been known for years, expense issues and complications with physical implementation have left it years behind its ground-based cousins. Though Delta is taking one of the more forward-thinking approaches, there are still concerns that shared bandwidth could limit what kind of uses in-air internet could be used for.

Possibilities of In-Air Internet

Delta Adding Free Wi-Fi to its Flights

Keeping tabs on your social media feed or keeping up comms with friends on the ground has plenty of benefits to in-air internet. Online gaming is perhaps the most prevalent passenger pastime, especially on 4+hr flights when a movie or two just won’t cut it. What better way to get through a long flight than keeping the mind busy with easy-access mobile games? Online casinos are a key example, as one of the most popular and accessible online gaming options. Accessing these means browsing what’s on offer, accessing bonuses like free spins included in Paddy’s latest casino offers, and navigating their game pages. Since slots and the tabletop games here are small in file size and don’t require much latency, the play could continue without issue. This doesn’t apply to every other type of internet use, however.

Another everyday use that we’d expect to see for in-air internet is for users to stream media to their tablets and mobile phones. While many Delta flights offer video features through seat screens, users prefer the selection and convenience of their accounts, which can be problematic. Video streaming, especially in high-definition for a system like Hulu or YouTube, can use a lot of bandwidth. Since bandwidth is shared by the whole plane, many simultaneous streams can place significant stress on a system.

Adding to the concerns of bandwidth sharing is the risk made by people who, knowingly or not, use the bandwidth for large file downloads. Finding a Windows or Adobe Premier update in the way or losing traffic thanks to a computer virus can cost even more bandwidth than streaming. All it takes is a few of these people on a big flight, and issues can appear for everyone else.

Culture, Technology, and Licensing

Delta Adding Free Wi-Fi to its Flights

Three key components play into the integration of Wi-Fi onto Delta’s flights: technology, legal complexities, and culture. In terms of technology, it’s the connections from Delta’s providers, Intelsat and Viasat, that provide the bandwidth from which to work. As covered at The Verge, Starlink was considered unsuitable for the time being. Over time, improving technology decreases the cost of in-air internet and increases the speed, but even essential upgrades can take planes out of the air for days.

Adding to this complexity is the need for every piece of technology added to a plane to acquire a safety certificate from the FAA. Business Insider notes that this takes time and money, and the process is not always simple. Further challenges are added by the need for each fleet type to have a special certification, adding more complications to an already laborious process.

With these complications aside, the ubiquity of mobile phone use in our modern lives has meant that with each new year, we require constant internet access more and more. It’s become a fundamental component of how we live, whether regarding work, entertainment, education, or communication. Cultural demands for the internet continue to grow, and air transport would never be able to avoid this reality forever.

What it means for Delta

Delta’s latest move to adopt free Wi-Fi on most of its flights illustrates a tipping point. The internet has finally won out when balancing technology and licensing costs against the cultural need for internet connectivity. Eventually, this standard should be adopted by most airlines, though budget air travel could remain Wi-Fi-free for the foreseeable future.

As for how smooth the rollout will go, much will remain to be seen. While low-demand uses will probably be suitable for everyone, a lack of awareness or care about fair data sharing will inevitably cause problems until bandwidth gating is implemented. Until then, the usefulness of in-air Wi-Fi could be a gamble, but at least it’s not one we have to pay for.

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