Delta Rejects Call for In-Flight Cellular Use

by Matt Klassen on December 20, 2013

The FCC has called on the airline industry to change its outdated and restrictive policies regarding in-flight cellular phone usage, but it looks like airlines are not willing to accept the charges. With airline traffic steadily increasing during this holiday season, Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson penned a memo earlier this week to the company’s employees, stating that despite what the FCC and FAA may say, Delta will not be allowing in-flight mobile usage.

The reticence of the airline industry to adopt the FCC’s new standards is really no surprise though, as Delta’s refusal to consider implementing in-flight cellular communication follows a similar refusal from the Association of Flight Attendants, both of whom cite customer satisfaction as the driving force behind maintaining the status quo.

But perhaps the airline industry is on to something here, as airplanes may be the last bastion of cellular silence this planet has to offer, the one place we can sit and enjoy a moment of relative peace and tranquility…if only that baby would stop screaming beside me.

It’s a world where appropriate public conduct has seemingly gone out the window, with ubiquitous network access, Bluetooth headsets, and the constant need to stay connected driving us to towards ever more mobile-inspired rudeness. In fact, I would guess that most of us find such conduct deplorable at the best of times, just imagine how you’d feel if the person next to you on a cramped airplane just didn’t stop talking.

When the FCC announced it was looking to revise its own “outdated and restrictive” policies last month, many wondered how the airline industry would respond. Although modern mobile broadband technology has seemingly assuaged the longstanding safety concerns of wireless interference with airplane systems there is a general feeling among the industry that cellular usage aboard airplanes will simply be one more headache for passengers and crew, and life is already hard enough when everyone is crammed together in steerage…err…I mean, economy class.

Further, The Association of Flight Attendants, the world’s largest flight attendant union, has raised other extant concerns with such a plan, as aside from annoyances regarding noisy neighbours, the union is concerned about the added risk of increased distraction during an emergency, as cellphone use could interfere with safety procedures.

Aside from Delta, fellow airline companies Southwest and Virgin America have both gone on record stating its unlikely they’ll allow cellular usage on their airplanes, The Wall Street Journal reported. That said, the airline industry is seemingly willing to concede on other forms of mobile communication, with Anderson noting in his memo that Delta will be happy to accommodate customers who use “silent data transmission” like email or texting going forward.

But as I’ve noted before, Delta’s refusal to embrace in-flight cellular communication will last only as long as the industry lets it, for if the company’s competitors begin to embrace the FCC’s forthcoming recommendations to some financial benefit, Delta will almost surely have to follow.

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