Quality Wi-Fi in the air, free to all, was "the last
frontier of connectivity," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told a standing-room crowd
during his CES keynote on Thursday.
And, he said, it came with quite a price tag: $1 billion.
At that cost, it had to include strategic components,
several aspects of which became clear during his talk.
First, the only string attached to access free Wi-Fi is that
one must be a member of Delta's SkyMiles loyalty program.
If a passenger isn't a member, signing up will be easily
done from seatback screens, Bastian said.
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He also noted that part of Delta's comprehensive approach
will be to convert all 150,000 of its current screens into touch-responsive
But beyond the operational improvements, Delta will soon be
"an umbrella brand," Bastian declared. "It's going to be a
collection of digital services, engagement opportunities and experiences for
Part of Delta's overarching approach is to partner with
other brands, some of which will be directly connected through the new Delta
Sync entertainment platform via free WiFi and others outside the Sync program,
such as earning Delta SkyMiles with orders placed through the Starbucks app.
Bastian said Delta expected one million new SkyMiles signups during the first
year of the Starbucks partnership. They hit that goal in just two weeks.
The free Wi-Fi, he said, will be available on as many
Wi-Fi-enabled devices as a passenger may happen to carry, and it's clearly
Delta's hope that some of that screen time will be devoted to its Sync
partners, among them Paramount Plus, American Express, Resy (restaurant
recommendations and bookings), Atlas Obscura (destination information) and the
New York Times (games).
But he made clear that this is only the beginning. Sync will
eventually "have retail, gaming, sports."
Free Wi-Fi will be available beginning February 1, Bastian said,
"for all planes that are capable -- about 80% of our U.S. system. And then
every week that goes by, there'll be more and more planes turned on. By the end
of next year, we'll have it on all of our international planes, then on all of
our regional planes."
The Delta Sync platform is expected to arrive in April.
Delta has launched other initiatives to improve the passenger journey in recent months including a customized flight display, which is being trialed at Detroit Metro Airport. Bastian originally spoke of the development of the display at CES in 2020.
*This article originally appeared on Travel Weekly.