Delta says no way to customers making in-flight calls

Airline would allow customers to access other services on their phones, such as texting and e-mail

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
December 18, 2013
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I have been both stunned, and disheartened, by all of the talk going on over the past month or so about the FCC potentially lifting the ban on in-flight calls. Having just flown across the country two times in the past week, the prospect of having to spend six hours listening to other people's phone calls, with no means of escape, absolutely terrifies me.

Luckily for people like me, even those in the airline industry do not seem too enamored with this plan, and now one of the world's largest airlines has made it clear that it will have no part of it.

In a memo that was sent out to the company's 80,000 employees worldwide, Delta CEO Richard Anderson made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that his airline will not be allowing customers to make phone calls in-flight.

"Delta will not allow cellular calls or internet-based voice communications onboard Delta or Delta Connection flights," he wrote. 

The reason? Because both customers, and Delta crew members, have both expressed extreme reservations to being stuck in a tube, thousands of feet in the air, with some loud-mouth yaking into his/her phone.

"Our customer research and direct feedback tell us that 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," he wrote.

"Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard."

That does not mean that customers will have not have any use of their cell phones on Delta flights, should the FCC plan go through, however. Customers will still be able to do non-annoying things, like text, email "and other silent data transmission services gate to gate."

The key word here, of course, being "silent."

Delta's stand on the issue reinforces what most of us probably could have guessed: that almost nobody, not even the airlines or their employees, seem to be in favor of allowing in-flight calls.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released earlier this month found that that 48% were against allowing in-flight called, while just 19 percent were in favor of it. Even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has come out against it

Of course, the FCC is still going ahead with its plan, having voted three to two last week to allow public comment on lifting the ban. Following that there will be a second vote to decide whether or not to go ahead with the new rules.

But, even if it does eventually go through, there are other impediments that could stand in its way, on top of opposition from the airlines.

First, the Department of Transportation has been looking to institute its own ban on allowing cellphone calls mid-flight, which could override the decision by the FCC. Plus, even if the airlines do allow them, there is the cost of making such calls, which can be as high as $3 a minute

This move by Delta is the first reaction I have heard from one of the airlines, and it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on the FCC proposal. Remember, Delta serves more than 160 million customers each year, going to  330 destinations in 65 countries, making it one the world's largest airlines. You would think that its opinion would count for something.

I also wonder if this move by Delta will have an impact on other airlines, who may will now feel more comfortable coming out and show their own displeasure with what the FCC is trying to do. 

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