Photographer: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

American Bows to Technology, Ends In-Flight Gate Announcements

Denver, B22. Omaha, B17. Philadelphia, A4. Portland, zzzzzzzz .…

You are now free to enjoy your in-flight entertainment, uninterrupted. The world’s largest airline, American Airlines Group Inc., plans to stop on-board announcements of connecting gate information as flights prepare to land.

The change, effective May 17, is a concession that technology has rendered the announcements moot, as passengers now travel equipped with an array of Internet-connected gadgets. American also displays gate information via the seat-back screens on its newer aircraft.

“There’s a lot of ways to get that information, and it wasn’t necessarily helpful to provide that on the airplane,” American spokesman Joshua Freed said.

The announcements also irritated some passengers, he acknowledged, especially for anyone potentially engrossed in a movie or Deadliest Catch. “Some people certainly viewed it as an interruption,” he said, “so for those folks, we’ll stop interrupting them.”

Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. said they ended these announcements several years ago. The former US Airways, which merged with American in 2014, had not offered them, Freed said. Southwest Airlines Inc., which carries less connecting traffic than its hub-and-spoke rivals, generally leaves gate details to its flight attendants’ discretion, based on their other workloads, a spokeswoman said.

The relic’s demise—“Baltimore, A27; Columbus, B46”—is yet another sign technology is gradually removing humans from the more rote aspects of travel.

Wireless tech has been embraced by flight attendants, who have access to far more information today about customers and flight operations via tablets and smartphones than they have had in the past. These gadgets—iPhones at United, Samsung for American, the Nokia Lumia at Delta—allow airlines to track customers much more closely.

Delta, for example, uses a “guest service tool” to code each cabin so flight attendants can retrieve details on each passenger, including his status in the carrier’s frequent-flier program.

On flights where there is a tight connecting time, a passenger’s seat on the device will change color to alert the crew. A flight attendant can then discuss the location of the next flight or alternate plans with the customer, spokesman Michael Thomas said. “You click the [passenger’s] seat assignment, and it will show connecting gate and time of departure,” he said of the software.

Airlines are hardly alone in fielding software that curbs human interaction.

At Avis and Hertz, for example, you can get a car without speaking to anyone, save for the parking attendant who checks the rental contract and opens a gate. Hotels such as Marriott International Inc., Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. are working out the bugs in systems to deliver hotel room access without front desks, clerks, keys, or plastic cards. The smartphone is the key. Conversing with a human is optional.

Regardless of how much joy American’s newfound quiet may bring you, don’t forget the persistence of credit card pitches, turbulence warnings, and plain-old chatty cabin crews. Plus, a flight’s captain is in complete command of the aircraft—and that includes the PA system. She still might want to muse about that landmark coming up off the left side of the airplane.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE