ATW Editor's Blog

On inflight cell phone use, Delta CEO makes the right call

by Karen Walker
Dec 18, 2013

Delta Air Lines has taken the bull by the horns and said it will not allow cellular calls or internet-based voice communications onboard its flights.

In a memo issued Wednesday to all Delta employees, CEO Richard Anderson said the airline’s customer research and direct feedback tells them that their frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would be a disruption.

“A clear majority of customers who responded to a 2012 survey said they felt the ability to make voice calls onboard would detract from – not enhance – their experience. Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard,” Anderson said.

The move comes after the US Federal Communications Commission voted to seek public comment on a proposal to lift its ban on in-flight cell phone use.

Delta was the first US carrier to file a plan to allow customers to use portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet after FAA relaxed rules for their use. The UK’s CAA followed suit.

“If the FCC lifts its ban on cellular use in flight, Delta will move quickly to enable customers to use text, email and other silent data transmission services gate to gate,” Anderson said.

“Even as technology advances and as regulations are changed, we will not only consider what we can do, but as importantly we will also consider what is right for our customers and our employees.”

It’s my bet that Anderson has made the right call and that he will win huge support – not to say a sigh of relief – from his customers.

Everyone I’ve talked to in this business regarding onboard cell phone use has had the same reaction – “please, no.”

At the IATA forecast briefing in Geneva last week, IATA said its findings have overwhelmingly shown that passengers do not want access onboard phone calls. Interestingly, this is a particularly strong feeling among business travelers, who cite things such as the ability to get some sleep and rest among their priorities. IATA also gave some figures showing an increase in disruptive passenger events. Many people fear not just the awful prospect of having to sit next to someone who is talking on their phone throughout the flight, but also the potential this has for further increasing unruly passenger problems.

So good for Anderson and Delta. Let’s hope other airlines follow their lead.

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