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CES 2020: Delta promises free Wi-Fi, looks to succeed where other airlines failed

Tech promises from other airlines have fallen short, but CEO Bastian wants to push the largest U.S. airline forward

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By Jon Swartz

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United last year introduced ConnectionSaver , a service for travelers at Denver International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport that lets them find connecting flights while ensuring those who have already boarded the aircraft arrive at their destination on time.

Because the estimated 200 million people who fly Delta annually spend on average three hours per flight, Delta is working with studios and developing its own content for in-flight entertainment. One of the concepts it is exploring is a “binge button” so passengers can watch their favorite shows consecutively.

Delta’s loftiest objective may be its goal of offering free Wi-Fi on all flights, which Bastian has joked should be possible because its planes — while traveling at 30,000 feet — are technically closer to satellite networks.

“I’m a firm believer that we need to make Wi-Fi free across all of our service, and we are working toward that,” he said.

See also: The CEO of the largest airline offers one simple reason that Wi-Fi on planes isn’t free

What Delta didn’t provide was a timetable on when to expect all the features. Free Wi-Fi, for instance, is a quantum leap. Many airlines have enough trouble providing consistent Wi-Fi service at a steep, one-time price.

Delta has a plan to distinguish itself from other carriers and help redefine the flying experience for millions of consumers, elevating itself in the market and modernizing an industry badly in need of an infrastructure upgrade. So far, it has made progress at airports in Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and New York, Bastian said.

“It’s the next generation in development of travel technology,” Bastian told MarketWatch in a phone interview before his CES keynote speech. “We believe innovation in our space is core to our mission, and will restore the magic of flight.”

CES has become a cornerstone of Delta’s consumer outreach. Last year, Bastian joined International Business Machines Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203856914/composite IBM +0.38%  CEO Ginni Rometty onstage to discuss artificial intelligence and the airline plans to make CES part of its annual strategy.

The grand nature of Delta’s technology blueprint – from leaving for the airport to arriving at a travel destination – offers a picture of what air travel will be now and in the immediate future, said Bastian, 62, who admitted he didn’t travel by air until he was 25.

As the world’s most valuable airline, it has the resources to undertake such a massive undertaking, according to Bastian. Delta shares rose 17.4% in 2019 for a market cap higher than $38 billion. Shares of Delta’s main rival, American Airlines Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -0.08%  , declined 12% in 2019.

“We need to enhance the ground experience in a travel space whose infrastructure was largely built in the 1960s,” Bastian said.

$ 124.96
+0.47 +0.38%
Volume: 3.65M
Aug. 7, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$111.29 billion
Rev. per Employee
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 13.03
-0.01 -0.08%
Volume: 61.70M
Aug. 7, 2020 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$6.63 billion
Rev. per Employee

Jon Swartz is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco, covering many of the biggest players in tech, including Netflix, Facebook and Google. Jon has covered technology for more than 20 years, and previously worked for Barron's and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @jswartz.

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