Stop Sweating In-Flight Phone Calls—It's Not Going to Happen

If you’ve been losing sleep over the prospect that airplanes may soon become crucibles of nonstop chatter once federal regulators allow in-flight phone calls, there’s new reason to relax: Delta Air Lines has forcefully emphasized its opposition to calls and reassured employees today that it will continue banning the practice even if it permits texting and Web surfing.

“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,” Delta’s chief executive, Richard Anderson, wrote in a memo to the company’s 80,000 workers. “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.” Anderson cited a 2012 survey in which the company found that passengers considered phone calls a detraction from their flight experience. Delta also received negative responses from cabin crews.

The issue has gained attention this month as the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, commenced a public-comment period on the topic. That could lead to the FCC allowing phone calls in flight because they are no longer considered a technical safety threat to airplane systems. The Department of Transportation said last week it may ban calls, even if the FCC allows them, owing to public opinion on the matter.

Anderson’s memo comes a week after a Quinnipiac University poll found that cellphone calls aloft were opposed by 59 percent of people surveyed, with 30 percent in favor and 10 percent who said they don’t know. Even among those tech-savvy, always-connected travelers between ages 18 and 29, more than half—52 percent—don’t like the idea, compared with 39 percent who do. The poll taken earlier this month of 2,692 registered voters has a margin of error of 1.9 percent.

With the nation’s third-largest carrier firmly in the “no phone call” camp, it’s difficult to imagine the two larger airlines, American and United, willing to be test subjects in an area likely to incite their customers’ passions, both pro and con. It’s easier to imagine a smaller airline taking that leap, possibly with new “talking” sections of the cabin—and maybe even a new fee if you prefer not to sit anywhere near it.

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