A Non-Discreet Airline Executive Makes A Phone Call On A Plane…

Filed Under: Travel

I’m always amused by people who have loud phone conversations on planes or in airline lounges, especially when they’re regarding (supposedly) highly confidential matters. I’ve overheard a countless number of executives at major companies have conversations at airports that were clearly intended to be private. And these are conversations that could have big implications if they got out.

I had to chuckle at a conversation I overheard yesterday while boarding my American flight out of Tampa, though.

I was sitting in the third row of first class, and there was a lady boarding who was walking past me. She hovered over my seat for maybe 10 seconds due to congestion in the aisle, and during that time she was leaving someone a voicemail, which went something like this:

“Hi [who she was calling], this is [her first name] from [airline] and I’m headed back to [the city we were flying to] and wanted to touch base. I was just in Tampa finalizing our service, and wanted to touch base regarding that.”

I couldn’t help myself, so I Googled her first name, airline, and city we were flying to, and not surprisingly, her name came up.

Well, folks, it looks like another airline will soon be launching service to Tampa. I don’t want to get her in trouble, and I don’t know any of the actual details, though I don’t think it’s too tough to guess which airline could launch service to Tampa next.

A good reminder to keep those private conversations private! 😉

  1. “I don’t want to get her in trouble…”

    Um I think you just did. 😉

    Fair point about keeping confidential information…confidential.

  2. Dude you are such a creep. Eavesdropping on conversation and ogling celebrities to observe how they behave? How socially inept are you?

    Sure, it’s a public space so they’re not exactly entitled to privacy. But to come on here and subsequently gossip about their private conversation like this is some kind of reality tv?

    Grow up.

  3. I am baffled how often people talk in a language they assume their co passengers do not understand. you cannot help overhearing at times

  4. Virgin America. Awesome, finally some non-stop service SFO-TPA. I just hope they have reasonable business class fares. Hopefully, United will match the service like they did with SFO-FLL.

  5. This guy David in the comments section clearly doesn’t get the point of the article. (He probably works for said lady and is trying to repair the damage.)

    Thanks Lucky for posting this. I am so annoyed by people having loud private conversations around others. One thing that was not brought up is that many of these people do it to show off how important they are.

  6. @ David (the first one):

    You don’t get out much, do you?

    So let me clue you in on two things. First, anyone in the financial or legal businesses is trained from an early age NEVER to do what that lady did for exactly this reason. There are consequences.

    And second, in case you’re curious, any stranger who overhears such a conversation is perfectly entitled to trade on it, and it won’t be “insider trading.” (Really on-the-ball folks will already be thinking . . . yeah, Barry Switzer . . . .)

    Your “grow up” point is, in a word, silly.

  7. Qantas A380 …all J Class service? SYD-TPA double daily??


    @David – I somewhat agree. Unfortunately, this is what happens when one watches too much Housewives, Kardashians and other reality tv shit. They start to merge it with their own reality, and a good deal of the under 30 crowd have no sense of discretion whatsoever.

    Sometimes we have to take/make calls in the most unfortunate of places, like when boarding a flight. One would hope that others have the decency to not plaster it on their blogs. With that said, this Exec should have known better…but still 🙂

    I should add that airline folks know exactly who Ben is (You are known at some HQ’s by name and picture – not all negative 😉 So maybe she did it on purpose haha 🙂

  8. Wow. What is wrong with you Ben?

    You shouldn’t be sharing stuff like this if you say you don’t want to get the person in trouble. Such a creep.

  9. Loud, public phone conversations are a huge pet peeve of mine. I was in LH lounge in FRA a while back and some asshole thought it was ok to have a hands-free, Facetime conversation for 20 minutes with his wife and kids back home while he’s seated in the middle of a busy lounge. I so desperately wanted to point out the private booths they have for such chats, but just moved away from him instead.

    Anyone who has a private conversation in a public place knows people around them are listening. We all eavesdrop, so don’t try and deny it. It’s human nature.

  10. If it was meant to be a private or discreet she should have had the common sense to secure an area for which she wouldn’t be broadcasting “sensitive” information to anyone within earshot

  11. The things I’ve heard while waitressing at a v high end restaurant. Suffice to say that I could have either made buckets of money, or busted an exec or two.

  12. Let’s be clear about this, the only person who had a duty of care in this scenario was the exec; to their client/company. It was not Ben. End of story.

    I try very hard never to discuss work on the telephone in a public space and if I were caught out by taking a call in ear-shot of others I would never use any names, including my own and would terminate the call as soon as possible. The nature of my work is highly sensitive. The only person I can rely on to be responsible is myself.

    By the sounds of it it was the exec making the call, leaving her name and giving the name of the person she was calling. This is her responsibility – no-one else’s.

  13. I am astonished by David’s reaction to this post but am happy to see it is not shared by the other readers. As others above have noted, the onus is on anyone with fiduciary duties to a company (e.g. executives, legal counsel) to safeguard its confidential information. Ben did not eavesdrop, but was simply sitting in a publicly accessible location; the onus is not on him to “unhear” information which he heard without making any effort to do so. Rather, any competent executive would expect that by treating this information with such lack of care, it can — and in this case, did — end up being picked up by news media.

    If anything, Ben exercised a significant degree of discretion he did not need to by not revealing the entire conversation. (I must not be as much of an airplane geek as I thought because it is certainly tough for me to guess who it might be.) Certainly, he would be within his rights — legal, journalistic and, to my mind, ethical — to do so.

  14. @David does have a point. We have to remember Ben is a part of the millennial generation where everything has to be shared and there is no discretion. Thus the recent “Guess which celebrity is on my flight” posts.

    Yes this person was loud and revealing information (and I too do not like when people have loud conversations in public) but Ben, you made the choice to write this post (which I find useless and unnecessary) for the masses.

    Last point Ben, just imagine if the roles were reversed. How would you feel?

  15. Ben You are perfectly in the right to repeat her conversation. If she is going to blab it out, she gives up the control of her words.

    Is it Republic?

  16. @alex

    Good lord — this has nothing to do with the millennial generation. Or reality TV. Journalists have been around for centuries. (And yes, whether you like it or not, Ben is, at least in part, a journalist.) For that entire time, journalists have been publishing information they learn that is of interest to the public. Again, for that entire time, the onus has been on those holding confidential information not to divulge it in public.

    While you apparently seek to apologize for this loose-lipped executive, consider what you’d think if it had not been Ben sitting in his seat but rather an executive for a competing airline — or a market mover. Would you expect them not to act on this information also? If so, you are living in an alternate universe. In an efficient market, people act on all the information they have, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Thus, again, the onus is on the company’s fiduciary to take all due efforts to keep confidential information private. What you seek to write off as a “millennial” issue has been an issue for centuries — get real.

  17. @Max – No offence to Ben but he is not a “Journalist” rather a “Blogger,” sharing his travel experiences and expertise (see the description under his “About Lucky”). Therefore, journalistic rights don’t apply.

  18. @ Alex

    OK I don’t want to get into a huge back and forth (and I’m sure you don’t either) so this will be my last post — but “blogger” and “journalist” are the same thing. You can’t seriously argue, in this day and age, that someone is a journalist only when their articles appear on dead trees every morning; and in any case, even if you did want to make this argument, the courts have long since moved on an extended the fullest First Amendment protection to bloggers. See, e.g., Obsidian v. Cox, 740 F.3d 1284 (2014); Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F.3d 206, 219 n.13. As a mere “blogger,” Ben enjoys the same First Amendment protections as the New York Times. Under American law, he is a journalist.

    In any case, the distinction doesn’t matter. You didn’t address my hypothetical at all — what if instead of Ben, the listener had been someone who stood to make significant money off this information on the market? Would you expect them to “unhear” it? Of course not — even if you’d like them to, that’s not the world we live in. Once you accept that premise (and you may not, but then, I submit, you’re not dealing with reality as we face it) it’s clear who the onus is on in this situation. It’s not Ben.

  19. @ Alex
    Oops, those citations should read: Obsidian v. Cox, 740 F.3d 1284 (9th Cir. 2014); Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F.3d 206, 219 n. 13 (4th Cir. 2009); Flamm v. Am. Ass’n of Univ. Women, 201 F.3d 144, 149 (2d Cir. 2000).

  20. Reminds me of the loud UA Global Services passenger in a lounge last week making award bookings over the phone. Literally shouting his PIN/FFN and CC# to the GS rep. SMH

  21. And . . . Max wins my Best Post of the Day prize (even with no humor).

    I just love it when someone posts who actually knows what he’s talking about. It just makes my whole day.

    Also, to make one other thing clear, and as others have pointed out, it’s completely on the exec to keep her mouth shut. That’s the law.

  22. The lady made a mistake by sharing confidential information in a public forum. One assumes she did this as a mistake. To then take that confidential information and purposely share it publicly isn’t cool. If the complaint was that she was speaking loudly, then sharing details of the convo wasn’t needed, the OP could instead have commented on how annoying it is for people to speak loudly … or how one shouldn’t share confidential info. To then purposely share the details of that convo with others was not, IMHO, polite.

  23. In case we’re voting, +1 max. I could not have put it better.
    (And, I’m so excited that cathay pacific is finally going to Tampa! )

  24. @Max
    Well done, because unlike most of the comments here. You actually taught me something I didn’t know.

    I am sure this was argued in the cases you cited, but I would have thought the journalists code of ethics, not to mention professional practice would have been a differentiator in this argument. For example a traditional journalist would have been honour bound to contact the un-named airline and publish their response, and not reveal their source.

    But I thank you again for updating me on 1st amendment rights of bloggers.

  25. Calling Ben a creep for posting this is silly. That woman had a conversation in PUBLIC about information that (presumably) was supposed to remain confidential. That’s HER fault, not Ben’s.

  26. Just because you are speaking in a another language on a flight in the US, don’t assume others don’t speak German.

  27. This is exactly why many executives chose to fly on private aircraft. In addition to saving time and hassles they can work without concerns about confidential information getting out.

  28. I was at a restaurant in BWI, and the people in the next booth were having a very loud conversation and I couldn’t help but overhear. They were actually competitors of mine, and they were doing a debrief amongst themselves about how they thought their sales meeting went. After about 10 minutes I got up and went to their table, introduced myself, and suggested that they be more careful in the future about what they discuss publicly.

  29. Ben didn’t do anything wrong.

    You’d be amazed what can be gleaned from social media profiles and phone conversations that should be, but aren’t, private. I’ve learned what companies are competing against me for a deal when I see their C-level execs check into hotels near a client on Twitter or Foursquare. People just don’t think. Am I creepy for checking their public Twitter feeds? Or are they indiscrete for making it all public?

    Fly to any company town, you’ll certainly here tons of stuff you shouldn’t. I recall loads of flights into and out of DTW where it seemed everyone on the plane had some secret about one of the car companies.

    And as for not overhearing…it’s a tight metal tube. I wish I could tune out all of the loud and annoying people on planes. You just can’t.

  30. It’s likely international service. Tampa has done complete renovations and build a new international terminal and have been hustling for service.

  31. C’mon Lucky, at least put a poll up for us where one of the choices is the right answer 😉 – you can reveal after they official announce the service!

  32. Aeromexico, Virgin America, or InterJet? I’m assuming Aeromexico or InterJet because there is only one seasonal flight to Mexico (Cancun) on DL. However, I would love it if VX started service to TPA!

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