TAMPA, Fla. — Plans by Delta Air Lines to start offering free inflight Wi-Fi next month increase pressure on other major airlines to follow suit, driving up more demand for satellite capacity. 

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Jan. 5 that Wi-Fi enabled by its satellite operator partner Viasat will be available for about 80% of its domestic routes in the United States from February.

Every week thereafter, “there’s going to be more and more planes turned on,” Bastian said, “such that by the end of next year we’ll have all of our international planes on, all of our regional planes on, and we’ll finish off with domestic.”

The plan includes offering free Wi-Fi on more than 700 Viasat-equipped aircraft by the end of 2023 in partnership with cellular operator T-Mobile.

Delta has spoken about plans to provide free Wi-Fi for years, and Bastian told the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Jan. 5 that the airline has invested “over a billion dollars” in preparation for free Wi-Fi across its fleet.

With JetBlue now also offering a free Wi-Fi service to passengers — also using Viasat — Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss said “we expect increased pressure among other major airlines to provide free Wi-Fi and further drive bandwidth demand.” 

Prentiss also noted how, after becoming Delta’s second inflight connectivity (IFC) provider in 2021, Viasat “continues to take a significant share of Delta’s fleet from incumbent provider Intelsat” ahead of its next-generation ViaSat-3 constellation that promises faster speeds.

Viasat’s growing dominance of the IFC market is an area of concern for British competition regulators investigating its plan to buy Inmarsat, another IFC provider.

Viasat and Inmarsat, however, point to incoming competition from IFC players seeking to provide services from non-geostationary orbit, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, which is building up traction among airline customers.

In April, Bastian said Delta had conducted exploratory Starlink tests on its aircraft.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...