Now that travelers are free to futz with their phones from boarding to de-planing, why not the people who wait on them?

Last week United announced that it will be providing the iPhone 6 Plus to 23,000 flight attendants to help them better serve passengers during flights. The iPhones will be used primarily to conduct retail transactions and access information like corporate email, company guidelines and safety procedures. United's implementation of iPhones is a second step towards creating a "paperless aircraft." Since 2011, the airline has provided iPads to their pilots. 

In the near future, the airline is hoping to expand the range of services offered by their iPhone-wielding flight attendants and is currently working to develop "customer-focused" apps. No further information was made available about such services, but the possibilities of a smartphone-powered cabin are endless.

Passengers who need assistance, whether it be asking for an additional pillow or getting a soda refill, could use a United in-flight app to put in the request to a nearby flight attendant. As quick and simple as an instant messaging, this would expedite service and save passengers the embarrassment of trying to grab a flight attendant's attention as he or she is walking by.

Similarly, an app can be used to place and pay for food and beverage orders during a flight. That way, flight attendants would only have to take the cart down the isle to make deliveries, instead of lingering in place waiting for passengers to decide what to order or running credit card transactions. 

Other tools available to flight attendants using the iPhone include instant access to translation services, currency conversions and even boarding pass scanning before boarding.

United is not the first airline to bring onboard digital devices for their staff. Delta gave Surface tablets to their pilots, and Virgin Atlantic has tested giving Google Glass and Sony smartwatches to staff greeting business class passengers. 

United's iPhone roll-out will take place in the spring of next year.

Published on: Dec 15, 2014