Southwest to offer free Wi-Fi on some flights as it tests service upgrades

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Southwest Airlines will temporarily offer travelers free Wi-Fi on certain flights starting this week, part of a test to bring faster internet to more customers.

The carrier has outfitted 40 of its Boeing 737s with upgraded hardware for its Wi-Fi service, according to a memo to employees sent Tuesday. Southwest’s Wi-Fi upgrades are the latest effort by an airline to improve connectivity on board.

Hawaiian Airlines last week said it plans to offer free Wi-Fi as early as next year via SpaceX’s Starlink service, which it hopes will bring fast internet to passengers on long trips over the Pacific Ocean. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has repeatedly said the airline plans to offer free internet connection. The carrier trialed the complimentary access before the pandemic.

The free Wi-Fi on Southwest will be available from May 4 through June 10 on certain flights in the western U.S., Tony Roach, vice president of customer experience and customer relations, wrote in the memo to staff.

The airline currently offers Wi-Fi for $8 per day and says on its website that it blocks access to some high-bandwidth sites such as Netflix, HBO Max and Zoom.

“This trial will allow Customers to stream, browse, and engage on the internet at no cost just like other complimentary services,” Roach wrote. “Our goal is to evaluate how the new hardware improves performance while delivering a reliable internet experience used by a large volume of Customers.”

Southwest declined to provide more detail.

Correction: Southwest currently offers Wi-Fi for $8 per day. A previous version misrepresented the offering.

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