World’s second-biggest airline testing Starlink Wi-Fi on planes

Major US airline Delta has tested SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet on its planes.

The airline’s CEO Ed Bastian revealed this during an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

According to Simple Flying, Delta Airlines was the world’s second-largest airline when measured by seats for sale.

The company recently received approval for a triangular flight route between Atlanta, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, following a drawn-out dispute with the Department of Transport.

Bastian has advocated for free Wi-Fi on commercial planes, and Delta offered free Internet to all passengers on certain flights for a two-week trial period in 2019.

However, that year he acknowledged free Wi-Fi on flights was not feasible due to the technical limitations.

“Once it gets above about a 10% take-rate onboard performance starts to erode…if you turned it on free,” he said.

As of March 2022, Delta had over 300 aircraft connected with Viasat’s satellite Internet service, which is charged at a flat rate of $5 (R75) per passenger.

Editorial credit: Theodorie /

Nevertheless, Bastian has reiterated that making in-flight Wi-Fi free for customers was something Delta was working towards, potentially explaining its collaboration with Starlink.

In-flight Wi-Fi is notorious for being exorbitantly expensive compared to data services on the ground.

That is primarily because the service relies on geostationary satellite Internet, which is costly.

Because passenger aeroplanes fly too high to use ground-based fixed broadband or mobile data, satellite connectivity is the only option for beaming data to and from the plane.

MyBroadband recently tested in-flight Wi-Fi on an Air France flight between Paris and Johannesburg.

On our trip, Internet-based messaging services were free for the whole flight, but an Internet surfing pass cost €18 (R291) for a flight of around 11 hours.

Speeds were also severely constrained after reaching a certain usage threshold.

SpaceX’s low-earth-orbit Starlink fleet promises to change what is possible with satellite Internet — both in terms of performance and price.

SpaceX initially revealed it was planning to offer Starlink on-the-go in cars, ships, and planes in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission spotted by Teslarati in March 2021.

Towards the end of 2021, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, Jonathan Hofeller, announced Starlink was testing its service on several aircraft.

It is unclear what SpaceX plans to charge airlines to offer the service to their passengers if it proves to be viable for in-flight connections.

Its “fixed” home service is currently available at $99 (R1,482) per month and offers speeds between 50 and 500Mbps, with a latency of less than 50ms.

More traditional geostationary Internet-beaming satellites have much higher latency and slower speeds at similar price points, or higher.

Now read: Wi-Fi signal interference test — simple trick to speed up your connection

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World’s second-biggest airline testing Starlink Wi-Fi on planes