After years of major airlines turning expected amenities into upcharges, Delta is reversing course and making its onboard WiFi free. According to TechCrunch, members of the airline’s SkyMiles loyalty program will be able to access WiFi on most flights without charge starting February 1. Enabling the service on regional and international flights will be completed by the end of 2024.
The new service will allow flyers to connect more than one device for free, a friction point on other WiFi systems. Purchasing WiFi on United, for example, permits just one device. While there is a mechanism for switching from one device to another, it’s awkward to go back and forth.
Numerous other digital enhancements are in the works for Delta flyers. A video release from the airline describes “Delta Sync,” a set of technologies to personalize the flying experience.
Features include facial recognition to connect the flyer to their account and experience, destination tips, expanded entertainment options, and touchscreen food and beverage ordering (at least in the front cabin), and more.
A Trend in Airline Customer Experience
This move by Delta reflects a continued emphasis on customer experience as an area of competition. While no major U.S. airline has announced a plan to make economy seating and lavatories more spacious, the race to the bottom in passenger comfort and amenities appears to have stopped.
I’ve chronicled some of the changes that airlines have been making. In the early phase of the pandemic, United eliminated the hated change fees that limited the flexibility of flyers to choose alternate flights. At the time, I speculated that customer experience might become a new competitive battleground for the major airlines.
Then, eighteen months ago, United announced a big new aircraft order in which the aircraft had major improvements:
- The “industry’s fastest” WiFi technology
- Enough overhead bin space to accommodate a carry-on bag for every passenger
- Seatback entertainment screens throughout the aircraft
Notably, these improvements wouldn’t just enhance the experience of premium seats or elite flyers – even economy passengers would benefit.
Southwest’s $2 Billion Investment
Just six months ago, I applauded Southwest’s announcement of a plan to invest $2 billion in improved customer experience. Planned changes included improved cabin baggage capacity and digital tools to speed customer check-in and make managing their reservation easier. They also announced faster WiFi and more entertainment options.
This was long before Southwest’s epic meltdown that left thousands of passengers stranded and often separated from their luggage. That’s an important reminder that the most fundamental aspect of customer experience is actually delivering the product or service. Investing in behind-the-scenes technology infrastructure may be invisible to customers but that invisible plumbing ultimately what determines their experience.
Frontier Missed the Memo
Frontier Airlines is apparently bucking the trend to improve the experience of their passengers. They recently announced that they would no longer have customer service phone support. This might be on-brand for the budget, no-frills airline but will surely lead to customer dissatisfaction when flight complications occur.
The Bar Keeps Rising
Highly personalized service is a goal many brands are striving for. Disney’s Magic Band and Princess Cruise’s Medallion are examples of huge corporate investments to try to deliver personalized service at mass scale.
Airlines try to personalize their service. Elite flyers may be greeted by name or individually welcomed on a flight, for example. But Delta’s Sync is an indication that, like Disney and Princess, want to deliver more personalized service to every passenger.
Will other airlines respond with even more robust improvements in passener experience? Will those improvements be available to every passenger, even those in the cheap seats? I’m optimistic. Once the infrastructure exists, digital changes can be comparatively inexpensive and can be rolled out quickly.
A new, digitally enhanced era of flying may be here.