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If you’ve noticed a bit less chitchat and a little more screen time by crew members while boarding a Delta flight, that’s intentional. Quietly, the airline has rolled out a new app and communication platform dubbed Flight Family Communication, enabling employees assigned to a specific flight to “have the ability to communicate directly with one another about the status of dozens of tasks and customer service items required before departure.”

In some ways, it’s Delta taking the best of a communications platform like Slack and an issues management tool like Jira to create a proprietary system for managing the complexities of flight operations. Pretty much every aspect of getting a flight out on time is fair game on the tool: catering, cleaning, fueling, accounting for carry-on and checked bags, inspecting aircraft, etc.

Delta’s Flight Family Communication app (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

The real-time digital conversation stream is visible to pilots on electronic flight bag tablets, to flight attendants via handheld SkyPro devices, and on desktop platforms for gate agents, flight dispatchers, system operations managers and Airport Customer Service Tower personnel. It provides each with shared awareness from their own work spaces in the airport or around the aircraft about the status of pre-flight activities, instead of relying on word of mouth, radios and jetway phones to relay information through multiple people — an antiquated process that airlines have been beholden to for decades.

Initial tests of Flight Family Communication resulted in a “45 percent decrease in the amount of time employees spent traversing the jet bridge to talk with one another during pre-departure.” Flight attendants and gate agents, for example, are now able to message directly with each other about whether overhead bin space is reaching capacity for carry-on bags, or if there are two people with the same seat assignment, and address each more quickly with minimal disruption to customers.

Since Flight Family launched this summer across Delta’s network, about 50% of all Delta departures have benefitted. In that time, Delta has seen a “65 percent jump in its ability to depart on time when a team has less than the minimum allotted time to push out a flight.” In other words, if IROPS or weather throws a wrench in things and delays an aircraft arrival, this system has enabled Delta to recover and get that aircraft back on schedule for the remainder of the day. Collectively, across its entire system, that kind of improvement can lead to big upticks in on-time performance.

On an average day, approximately 11,000 messages are sent using the platform. During days when the operation is impacted heavily by weather, for example, usage has jumped to more than 14,000.

The tool joins Delta’s growing technology tool belt, including a revamped Flight Weather Viewer app that’s enabling pilots to better detect and dodge turbulence. For an inside look at what Delta is doing to keep its operations running smoothly, check out our behind-the-scenes tour of the carrier’s Atlanta-based TechOps facility.

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