Delta to Offer Free Mobile Messaging Access In-Flight

Delta Air Lines will offer passengers free access to the mobile-messaging apps iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger during flights, beginning Oct. 1. The deal extends only to text messages, however, and does not include photos, videos or audio recordings. Passengers must continue to pay for WiFi packages if they wish to send multimedia messages or surf the Internet; SMS messages, which use cellular networks, will remain forbidden during flight.

Delta, which has been investing in its technology infrastructure, noted that it will be the first of the big-three U.S. airlines to offer such free access, and that it also offers the most aircraft with the capabilities to do so. Neither American Airlines nor United has responded to requests concerning their plans to offer the perk.

The smaller U.S. carrier JetBlue already offers free WiFi to passengers, including multimedia messaging, streaming and browsing the web. Some international airlines, including Air China, Emirates, Norwegian, Phillippine Airlines and Turkish Airlines, offer some form of free WiFi access, but limitations concerning length of time, flight length and/or loyalty status apply, depending on the airline.

Delta's new free messaging access applies to all Gogo-enabled Delta flights, including all aircraft with two or more cabins. 

The carrier also continues to expand its other inflight technology, according to Delta, including paid high-speed WiFi, seatback screens, and free streaming for certain movies and television shows. Delta will install its high-speed WiFi hardware -- which allows global streaming capabilities and VPN access -- in more than 600 planes over the next two years. About 200 planes are already equipped with the technology.

Delta also now has 500 planes with seatback entertainment, in partnership with Panasonic, and promises to have 600 by the end of next year.