Delta Makes a Smart Choice for Wifi Internationally

American, Delta, Inflight Entertainment

While wireless internet has become nearly ubiquitous on flights within the US (unless you fly United), international travel hasn’t seen the same result. Sure, some foreign airlines have started to install wifi, most notably Lufthansa, but the airlines based in the US have not. That will finally start changing later this year.

American was the first to announce that it would put wifi on international aircraft – it is expected to have its first 777-300ER delivered by the end of this year with wifi. But we don’t know which provider will be used. We also so far know that it will only be on the 777s. Nothing has been said about the airline’s large fleet of 767s and internationally-configured 757s. As of last week, Delta has decided to go much further.

Beginning in early 2013, Delta will begin installing wifi on its entire long haul fleet. This means it will KU vs. MU Border Wargo on the A330s, 777s, 747s, and the 767s and 757s that fly internationally. (The 757s and 767s that fly domestically already have internet.) Once this is done, every airplane in the Delta fleet with more than 50 seats (including Delta Connection) will have wifi. That’s actually quite the feat considering we’re talking about around 1,000 aircraft.

As you may know, Delta currently has internet on domestic flights via Gogo using air-to-ground technology. That means the airplanes have antennas that point down to stations on the ground to get connected. That works on land but it’s not the easiest thing to install ground stations in water. (Any volunteers for anchoring them thousands of feet under sea level?) So, what could Delta do? It looked at several providers and ultimately decided to stick with the same one, Gogo, using Ku band satellite technology.

This is great news for travelers for one reason. Gogo controls the pricing of its internet offering, so if Delta had them for domestic and someone else for international, that would have been a poor customer experience. What if you flew from Chicago to New York and then on to Barcelona? You would have had to sign up for Gogo service on the short flight and then something completely different on the long one. But since Delta is going with Gogo, it will have the ability to sell you a single pass to be good on all flights. The interface will be the same regardless of the hardware being used on the aircraft. And you’ll only need one account. And if Delta ends up using GogoVision to stream movies, you’d be able to watch them on both flights.

Now, about that hardware. Since air-to-ground clearly doesn’t work for this, Gogo had to go and choose something else. Delta has signed up for Ku band satellite coverage. If you’d ever used internet on Southwest, that’s what you get. It’s a perfectly capable system that doesn’t rely on the ground below. Ka band is supposed to be faster and cheaper, but it’s not really ready yet and Delta wanted to get moving. If down the line, Delta decided to make a change, I suppose it could theoretically do that fairly easily. But it’s also not entirely clear that there will be enough benefit to do so. That’s a topic for a future post.

So, Delta wants Ku band and it wants to get things done quickly. Now let’s just see if they can stick to the schedule. Gogo hasn’t installed Ku band systems yet, so it has some hoops to jump through before this will be up and running. Early 2013 is a nice goal to have – hopefully they can actually meet it. The fleet won’t be done until 2015. That’s annoying that it will take so long, but installing these satellite antennas takes more time than the air-to-ground ones, so it’s harder to schedule time to pull airplanes out of service.

So it’s going to take some time, but at least the install process starts in six months. Hopefully they’ll find a way to expedite this, because 2015 seems awfully far away.
Regardless, this is a good move by Delta. It’s creating a very consistent offering across its fleet and that’s important. It will be interesting to see if American does something similarly friendly or not. For that matter, it’ll be interesting to see if United ever gets off its butt and does anything.

[Original photo via Flickr user David Reber’s Hammer Photography/CC 2.0]

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35 comments on “Delta Makes a Smart Choice for Wifi Internationally

  1. “Nothing has been said about the airline?s large fleet of 767s ”

    AA won’t be installing wifi in the 767s as those are scheduled to be retired (although it’s a long timeframe to retirement…)

    1. Gary – Only half the 767s are scheduled to be retired and that doesn’t even start until 2015. The rest will continue to fly with an upgraded premium cabin but no changes in the back.

    1. Keeping up with the times is rather expensive, and with fares as low as they are, it’s hard to justify an expense that may or may not pay for itself. As for what to do on long flights, one can always read a book.

    1. Jon – That’s in the commercial agreement between the two, and I doubt we’ll get full details. But my assumption is that if Gogo keeps the revenue since it sells the product itself, Delta wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much as it would under an alternate deal where it kept the revenue.

  2. I hope this pays off for Delta. I love that they have wifi on so many of their domestic planes, but using it internationally would be great, considering the much longer flights. I know I would use the service. I’d like to think this would win them some loyalty, but I know that passengers almost always base their purchase on price and then maybe frequent flier program.

  3. Why the dig at United? They made a mainline decision (excluding the 737 fleet which is to be upgraded when LiveTV gets it’s wifi act together and delivers a soluition) to install satellite wifi late last year. The first of which will be installed later this calendar year. (using panasonic)
    Not to mention that United has wifi on all ps flights.
    That is the same as US Air with it only being on A321’s (although they have announce a broader implementation as well).

    1. Kevin – United is way behind US Airways here. Yes, there is wifi on the 13 ps airplanes that only fly between JFK and LA/SF. Big deal. The airline has announced that some of the ex-Continental fleet will get wifi via LiveTV, but that’s a partial solution and one that hasn’t seen the light of day yet. United is the clear laggard when it comes to wifi.

      US Airways has it on all 60+ A321 aircraft. It also will have it on all A319/A320 and big Embraer jets by next year. That’s a big difference.

  4. I’m not paying $5 for a few hours of wifi. I think the real benefit is the access to inflight to see connections, schedules, and other weather information. And for us avgeeks there’s also flightaware to track flights :)

    Therefore, I’m not worried about UA and its lack of wifi. UA has bigger issues to deal with, like staff morale and not deleting people’s Mileage Plus accounts :)

    1. I’ve not tried it, but I’m pretty sure Flightaware would not be able to update in the air without having purchased Wifi, so I’m not sure what benefit it would be to have a service thats supposed to deliver up to date flight cahnges if, well, it can’t update.

      I agree in general in-flight wifi is only essential if for business reasons your work has to be saved to a cloud or otherwise filed via some sort of web portal. In those cases having the couple hours of inflight time to do paperwork might be essential.

  5. We will be back to another post Cranky made awhile ago. While the wi-fi is great, without power outlets there is a very limited usefulness to many of the people that want/need the wi-fi the most. Specifically, those of us that have to carry around big heavy workhorse laptops.

    1. I used to really agree with this, but we’re getting computing devices that have 10+ hours of use on a single charge. Sure those workhorse laptops don’t do it, but some of the newer machines are able to give around 10 hours of use..

  6. I’ve used WiFi extensively on Southwest and on United PS and the experience is underwhelming at best. Load times for simple web browsing are too long that it becomes more of a frustration and distraction than something useful. The only thing inflight WiFi does well is email and as a business traveler who occasionally wants a reprieve from constant work emails I wish it didn’t do that well either.

  7. I’ve used gogo on Alaska many times and have found that the connection is fast and reliable about 80% of the time. Not bad in my opinion considering you’re in a 500mph tube seven miles high! I heard the Ku option initially will only be TATL…any word on a timeframe for TPAC service? Would love to have wireless west coast-Hawaii!

    1. Steve – I haven’t heard anything about there being an issue on Transpac flights. But Hawai’i is a different story because that is mostly on domestic airplanes (at least from the west coast) and those only have air-to-ground. So that might continue to be a service hole.

      1. Wonder if it makes sense to subfleet the Hawaii flights for wifi — they’re already having to keep them subfleeted for ETOPS, so an extra (or different) wifi receiver wouldn’t be too hard to wrangle.

        1. I don’t know that they have a subfleet for Hawai’i. Would probably only make sense if they could put both a satellite and air to ground antenna on each. But that starts to add to weight.

        1. Steve – Interesting. I haven’t heard anyone suggest this won’t work over the Pacific. Will be curious to hear if maybe those 747s/A330s that do a lot of Asia end up coming later in the install process in order to give Gogo time to get that working.

  8. Although you did not intend this as a humor piece, I found it hilarious. Personally, I do not use in-flight Wi-fi; it is slow, often band-limited and waaay to expensive. And, I don’t really need it. That said, I do believe that it is a good investment for all major carriers and should be installed on ALL of their >50 seat fleet. Why? Godd, functional Wi-fi will distract the self-loading cargo from their miserably tiny seats, the usually broken IFE systems, the horrible food and over-priced liquor. An amusing post, even if not so intended. -C.

  9. Any information about DL’s A330s? Those aircraft, at least for now are what I’m in on HNL/ATL and there’s no WiFi on any of them not even for over-land parts of the journey.

    1. DK Momus – Aha, I left out the A330s! Sorry about that. But they will be part of this. I’ll update right now.

    2. Brings up an interesting question — for those flights that are over land for quite some time, but have a oceanic leg, will they be using the Ku band all the way? or will they use the ground stations while they’re over land? It’d seem that it might make sense to use the ground stations since they’re a fixed cost, versus the per hour transponder rental of the satellite..

  10. I don’t understand this obsession with Wi-Fi. Are people really that dependent on the internet that they can’t get off for a few hours?

    There was a time when many airlines had seatback TVs on their domestic flights. They sold movies and games and made money. But then they got rid of them, because people didn’t want to pay for it.

    While wi-fi is a nice perk, I don’t think it’s going to generate enough revenue to cover its costs. United is the smart one here.

    1. The airlines using gogo aren’t paying for installation…and most if not all of the revenue goes to gogo, not the airline. Lately I’ve seen usage really increasing on my flights, particularly among ff’ers. I’d guess up to 20-25% of customers are on-line on some flights. Hard to believe that UA is still dragging their feet on installing wi-fi…I’m sure it’s costing them customers.

      1. Do you know anyone who has chosen an airline because of the wi-fi? I don’t, and I know a lot of people who fly regularly.

        1. Jim – What I find to be most telling is the decision by US Airways to expand wifi onboard. This is an airline that doesn’t provide much more than basic transportation in terms of hardware on the airplane. No domestic airplane has any kind of inflight entertainment. But the airline sees value in wifi and it says it expects that people are booking away if they don’t have it.

  11. Just leaving a comment as follow-up because I haven’t seen much in the way of action in this area either with DL or with Gogo since this was announced back in 2012. And in fact, have only seen Gogo announce that Virgin will be its launch partner for its “hybrid” ku-band “GogoGTO” product in 2014. Any word on where DL stands on this?

    1. dkmomus – It’s still in progress but they’ve been having problems. The biggest issue at hand is getting approval from the feds. There were some issues where the feds decided to require strengthened bird strike resistance and that has delayed the certification for a lot of new aircraft types using wifi. Last I heard, Delta was still hoping to have this up and running soon.

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