Beginning next year the carrier will start extending Wi-Fi service to its overseas routes, adding to its list of à la carte services - and fees.
Next year, Delta Air Lines will make it possible for fliers to surf the Net while hopping the pond.
The Atlanta-based carrier said Thursday that it will start offering wireless Internet on its international flights in early 2013. Delta now offers Wi-Fi on most of its domestic routes and by 2015, all of its 150 long-haul international aircraft will be Internet-equipped.
Rates for international access haven't been determined, but the move will add to a growing list of à la carte services -- and fees -- from Delta. The carrier has become the leader in so-called ancillary sales, charging travelers for amenities ranging from preferred seating to extra legroom on the plane.
More airlines are relying on non-ticket sales as a way to raise revenue and offset rising fuel costs. Delta made $814.3 million in such sales in the third quarter last year, about 18 percent more than the same period in 2010, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
While fees for carry-on bags and ticket changes are often viewed as punitive, analysts say optional services like Wi-Fi can grow revenue while giving fliers something more tangible in return.
Already, the airline has been trying to lure its domestic fliers to use Wi-Fi through a partnership with Amazon that lets travelers access its website for free during flights. Delta also occasionally lets fliers use Wi-Fi for free. Current rates for domestic flights range from $1.95 for 15 minutes to $17.95 for unlimited access during a cross-country flight.
Adding international Wi-Fi won't be a huge sales boost, but it will help Delta stay competitive, said Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James. As more airlines offer Wi-Fi down the line, it will become an option fliers will expect, she said.
"It's a big draw for the premium traveler, which generates so much of the revenue the airlines get," said Bob Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com. Fliers who've already handed out thousands for a fare won't mind being charged extra for Internet access, he said.
Delta is following the lead of carriers like United Airlines, which became the first U.S. carrier to begin installing satellite-based Internet on intercontinental flights in 2011.
Joe Brancatelli, editor of the travel website Joe Sent Me, was skeptical of the service.
The younger people who most want to use the Internet "are the least likely to pay for it" because they are accustomed to getting it for free, he said.
Delta and its provider, Gogo Inflight Internet, wouldn't disclose how many people were using Wi-Fi on domestic flights, but Delta spokesman Paul Skrbek said that usage has steadily grown since the airline rolled out the service in 2010.
Because of the costs involved, Wi-Fi on international flights is "a completely different animal," Brancatelli said.
Using satellites, which is necessary for transoceanic flights, will be more costly than the air-to-ground service Delta currently uses, he said.
"Until we know the price, we can't talk much about if this is going to be useful."
Walker Moskop • 612-673-4265