If you’re flying in the next few weeks, the flight attendant’s welcome address might be a little different. Beyond pointing out the exit doors and modeling how to use a flotation device, airline employees on certain flights will explain how passengers can score some free Wi-Fi.
Between now and May 25, American Airlines is offering fliers on most of its domestic flights either 15 or 30 minutes of free internet service (depending on flight length), in exchange for watching an advertisement.
For the airline, the move is part of a series of trials to see how customers will use the service and to find ways of improving connectivity in the sky.
“The trial will also drive awareness for the inflight portal, aainflight.com, and help American better understand what inflight experiences are most meaningful to customers,” an American Airlines spokesperson told AFAR. The inflight portal is where passengers will watch the ad and then access the complimentary Wi-Fi. It’s also where they can watch free movies and shows, view the flight tracker, and purchase more Wi-Fi when the allotted time runs out.
The free service is being made available on all narrow-body aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi from the telecommunications company Viasat (basically all of American’s Boeing 737s, Airbus 321s, and select A319s), which makes up more than 80 percent of American’s fleet.
Normally, the cheapest rate for Wi-Fi on American flights is $10 for an entire flight. The most expensive is $35 for international flights. (Frequent fliers could also opt for the $50 per month plan, but it only works within the United States, Mexico, and Canada.) The cost varies by provider (beyond Viasat, American also occasionally works with internet companies Gogo and Panasonic), Wi-Fi session, and flight length.
American isn’t the only airline toying with free Wi-Fi. Southwest Airlines recently rolled out a similar program (minus the advertisement), which will be running through June 10 to test its upgraded Wi-Fi hardware, per CNBC.
And Hawaiian Airlines announced plans to offer free Starlink high-speed satellite broadband Wi-Fi on select transpacific flights as early as next year.
“We will have the best connectivity experience available in the air,” said Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO Peter Ingram in a press release. “We waited until technology caught up with our high standards for guest experience, but it will be worth the wait. Our guests can look forward to fast, seamless and free Wi-Fi.”
Across the board, Wi-Fi on domestic flights has gotten cheaper. Delta has rolled out a flat $5 Wi-Fi fee within the past year, regardless of the destination. United Airlines and Alaska Airlines also announced $8 Wi-Fi on most domestic and short-haul international flights. (Southwest usually charges $8 for inflight internet, but it’s always free for A-List Preferred Loyalty members.)
JetBlue Airways is currently the only airline within the United States to offer free Wi-Fi on every flight. But it only has about 4 percent of the U.S. flight market share, whereas Delta Air Lines has 16 percent, American Airlines has 15 percent, and United has 11 percent.
Delta ran a two-week trial in May 2019, when it offered free Wi-Fi on 55 daily domestic flights.
Skift, a travel industry news site, quoted Delta CEO Ed Bastian shortly after the 2019 trial, saying that while Gogo, Delta’s Wi-Fi provider, had improved the quality of inflight Wi-Fi, it couldn’t yet get up to the speeds needed to support heavy usage from passengers.
Neither American nor Southwest has said yet what it intends to do regarding Wi-Fi availability following the trial.