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Free Wi-Fi in the sky takes a lot more than the flip of a switch

Customers on around 55 domestic flight segments a day will have an opportunity to surf the internet free of charge, starting May 13. The two-week pilot across all cabins on select short-, medium- and long-haul routes is Delta's first step toward realizing its vision of offering free in-flight Wi-Fi as part its leading suite of complimentary onboard entertainment options.

"Customers are accustomed to having access to free Wi-Fi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too," said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Director of Onboard Product. "Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right – this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch."

While this test will not support content streaming, it enables customers to browse, email, shop, message, engage with social media and more – all free of charge.

Delta is no stranger to blazing the path to free and providing customers more options for enjoying their time on board. In 2016, Delta was the first global airline to drop the paid model for in-flight entertainment and offer all-free Delta Studio content via seat-back screens and streaming to personal devices. In 2017, Delta was the first global carrier to offer free mobile messaging and since then it has grown its lead in offering more seat-back video screens than any other airline. All of this is part of multi-billion dollar investments Delta has made in recent years to transform travel into a part of the journey to look forward to.

Delta's initial test on select domestic high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft is designed to understand customer experience preferences, system performance, customer feedback and more. Dimbiloglu noted that due to the complexity of the project, it will likely take several more test phases and lots of listening to ensure the free product Delta delivers, adds value. 

"As with any test in uncharted territory, Delta will rely heavily on customer and employee feedback to navigate how to best make free in-flight Wi-Fi a reality," Dimbiloglu said.

Test flight segments will change daily as part of the test structure, but customers will be notified by Delta if they're being tapped for the test via email and a Fly Delta app push notification prior to their flight and upon visiting the Wi-Fi portal on board.

Delta currently offers Wi-Fi on nearly all flights across its domestic and international networks and has installed high-speed 2Ku on 60 percent of mainline aircraft. Wi-Fi for purchase and free mobile messaging will remain available throughout the test timeframe, just as they are today. 

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