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Delta CEO: No Voice Calls On Our Planes

Passengers on Delta Airlines will not be able to make voice calls, even if the FCC allows it.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson issued a memo to its 80,000 employees Wednesday saying it will not allow cellular calls or other Internet-based voice communications on Delta or Delta Connection flights. Anderson made the decision after listening to feedback from Delta's employees and customers.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission formally launched an effort to rewrite the laws regarding the use of cellphones on planes. Making voice calls on planes has been illegal for decades due to fears about interference with ground-based networks. The FCC may make it legal and technologically possible, but it can't tell airlines whether they should offer in-flight calling services.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler himself doesn't like the idea, but he told a House panel last week that that won't stop him from doing his job. "I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else. But we are not the Federal Courtesy Commission. Our mandate from Congress is to oversee how networks function."

[What do you think -- are in-flight calls long overdue or just a bad idea? Read Make The Skies Friendlier For Mobile Devices.]

Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx agrees. He said last week that the US Department of Transportation may ban calls on planes no matter what the FCC does.

But Delta's CEO has preempted all of them. "Our frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would be a disruption to the travel experience. In fact, 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," Anderson wrote in the memo. "Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls on board."

The flight attendant union was quick to denounce the idea when the FCC proposed it in November, and surely its stance weighed heavily in Anderson's decision. Delta's frequent flyers spend a lot of money on travel, and the company doesn't want to aggravate its most important customers. Further, offering the service would cost Delta plenty of up-front cash.

However, that doesn't mean smartphones will be completely off-limits at Delta. "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 wrote. The FCC has only just begun taking formal comments on the matter and isn't likely to make any decisions until well into next year. Even then, airlines will have a lot of work to do to enable any such services.

Anderson concluded by saying that the airline will always do what it believes is right for its customers and employees. "This is yet another example of how we continue to have your back and how we also rely on your professionalism and experience to guide our actions and decisions."

Delta may be the first airline to strike down the idea of cellular voice calls on planes, but it likely won't be the last. Which airlines will fall in step with Delta?

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User Rank: Ninja
12/18/2013 | 8:14:07 PM
Re: Good Call Delta
I think that silent methods of communications would be okay; I do not want to be on a flight with someone who is yapping away, however. 

You know that if someone is allowed to, then there will be someone who will do it. Some people are unfortunatley rude like that. It's sad but true. 
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/18/2013 | 7:04:14 PM
Re: Disruption to the travel experience
The headline should be, "Delta CEO Agrees To Keep In-Flight Misery At Current Levels."
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/18/2013 | 3:54:31 PM
Good Call-- But What About Other Services?
This is a good call. As someone who stands 6-3 and flies coach about once every six weeks, I already find airplanes to be aggravating. I don't want to hear the person next to me talking on the phone for four hours-- that would probably put me over the edge. That said, I hope airlines let us use smartphones for other services--texts, Internet browsing, email, and so on. I don't see a reason to exclude those services-- except to force people to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi instead.
Tom Mariner
Tom Mariner,
User Rank: Strategist
12/18/2013 | 1:32:25 PM
I abhor the idea of sitting two feet from a loud phone call, but worry that the real job of flight crews, the safety of the passengers, will be lost in the draconian enforcement of "company regulations".

If they really cared about passenger feelings or safety, they would instantly stop the insane charging for checked baggage! That forces most to struggle 45 pound "carry on's" over my head, crushing my coat and sweater and threatening me with head injury. UNTIL YOU FIX THAT insanity Delta, stay out of my private business!
A Ciizen
A Ciizen,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 1:21:30 PM
Re: Disruption to the travel experience
I certainly CAN picture it being worse when trapped next to a ratchet jaw on a cell phone.
A Ciizen
A Ciizen,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 1:19:00 PM
Trapped by gabbers.
Great call Delta. I dont want to sit next to anyone for any lenght of time paying for the seat and be forced to listen to some jabber jaw on a cell phone.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 1:13:01 PM
Missed Opportunity with black and white perspective
Like many widely stated policies, this one seems to miss the possibility of a happy medium because it ignores incentives.  I think most travelers would not mind fellow travellers making a quick voice call to let their (likely not tech savvy) ride know where to pick them up, etc.  A simple solution seems to be fairly obvious- allow each traveller 3 (or perhaps 5) min of free voice usage per flight.  Then charge something like the outrageous AirFone rates for additional minutes, so people will only use it if it truly is necessary.  Perhaps even offer a small incentive (punchcard for the premium snacks/drinks on subsequent flights, etc.  Use your imagination) for people that don't use theirs to encourage texting/email/other forms of silent communication.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 1:07:36 PM
Disruption to the travel experience
Let me tell you how voice calls will cause "disruption to the travel experience" as Delta's CEO has stated.

I have been flying Delta for over 25 years. In that time, the seats are narrower, leg room has shrunk, astronomical baggage fees imposed, charges for Wi-Fi access, and we are otherwise nickel and dimed to death. Throw in TSA, and the other distractions, I can't see how allowing voice calls inflight will make matters worse.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2013 | 12:56:53 PM
Good Call Delta
I HATE all the airlines for gouging all us sheeple, but have to recgonize a good call when there is one.  I don't appreciate sitting next to anybody that can't (won't?) shutup, especially a person rude enough to think their phone call is so important, everybody around them MUST be party to at least one side of the conversation.  That being said, I see nothing wrong with silent communication via text or email and have been missing this on the many flights I make each year as part of my job.

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