Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson has told the airline’s employees that Delta will not allow voice calls to or from cellular or Internet-based phones onboard its mainline or regional aircraft during flight.
In a December 18 memorandum to all 80,000 Delta Air Lines employees which reinforced earlier media statements from the airline, and which was itself released as a public statement, Anderson wrote:
“Last week the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to seek public comment in consideration of lifting its ban on in-flight cell phone use. Delta will not allow cellular calls or internet-based voice communications onboard Delta or Delta Connection flights.
“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. Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard.
“Delta has moved quickly when technological and regulatory breakthroughs provide opportunities to make flying better for our customers. That is why we were the first to file our plan with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to allow customers to use portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet. Similarly, 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.
“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. 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.
“Thanks for all you do every day for our customers, our colleagues and our business.”
Anderson’s decision follows Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that because his agency now sees no technical reason why cell-phone calls should be disallowed, rescinding the ban was “the responsible thing to do”.
“When the rationale for a rule doesn’t exist, the rule shouldn’t exist,” Wheeler told the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee on December 12.
Wheeler took the stance that the decision whether or not to allow voice calls in-flight should rest with individual airlines, despite admitting to the House subcommittee that “I’m the last person in the world who wants to listen to somebody talking” on a phone during a flight.
However, Wheeler also admitted to the House subcommittee that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had told him on the morning of December 12 that the Department of Transportation (DOT) was planning restrictions of its own on voice calls onboard aircraft.
Ultimately, as a result of its mandate to ensure the safety and security of public transportation on flights to, from and within the U.S., the DOT is likely to be more influential in determining whether or not voice calls will be allowed to and from aircraft in-flight than will the FCC.
Despite support from the FCC’s position from the Telecommunications Industry Association, the cell phone providers’ trade and lobbying group, the Association of Flight Attendants (the largest flight-attendant union in the United States) has opposed the proposed move, saying voice calls could lead to fights breaking out between passengers.
An Associated Press-GfK poll performed after the FCC first announced it saw no reason why voice calls shouldn’t be allowed in-flight reported on December 11 that a 59 per cent majority of U.S. fliers surveyed opposed allowing voice calls onboard aircraft.
Opposition appeared to become much more prevalent among relatively frequent fliers who had taken four or more flights in the previous year, 78 per cent saying they were against the idea.