Delta flights to offer free in-flight texting

Testing out in-flight video calls
Testing out in-flight video calls

You'll soon be able to text on any Delta Air Lines flight for free.

Delta (DAL) flights worldwide will have free texting through Gogo, its inflight internet provider, starting Sunday.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian announced the news on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday.

"We want our customers when they're flying to stay connected," Bastian said.

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Free messaging will be available on Gogo-enabled Delta flights for planes with two or more cabins, leaving out 130 smaller 50-seat regional jets. Travelers will be able to access the feature through Delta's Wi-Fi portal page, airborne.gogoinflight.com, where they will be given a choice to use open a connection to use free internet-enabled chat programs or purchase full-featured Wi-Fi.

Delta has 1,300 planes worldwide and all but 130 of them have Wi-Fi, according to a Delta spokeswoman.

Gogo is an in-flight internet and entertainment service used by airlines to connect their planes to cellular networks on the ground or in space. Gogo's new high-speed 2Ku technology is satellite-based and significantly increases the bandwidth to the plane, enabling streaming services like Hulu, HBO Now, YouTube and others. Delta so far has rolled out the faster internet access on 200 of its aircraft.

Gogo's pricing for Wi-Fi on flights varies depending on the plan, but Delta customers will not have to pay for Wi-Fi access for texting.

Delta passengers can message via Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But the service is only available for text use and does not support sending photo or video files, according to a Delta statement.

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When asked if in-flight calls would be next for Delta, Bastian said "never in my lifetime."

The company said in a press release the move is the first by a U.S. global carrier, which it defines as a U.S.-based airline operating trans-oceanic routes. Domestic rival Alaska Airlines introduced free texting on its jets in January.

The effort is part of Delta's multi-billion dollar investment in the "customer experience." Airlines are looking to lure customers by providing perks like free messaging.

Earlier this week, Netflix (NFLX, Tech30) said it will offer its low-broadband mobile technology to airline carriers in early 2018.

-Jon Ostrower contributed to this report

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