Pilot: $1B Delta Texting App is My Software

Delta Flight Family Communication 1

Background

On July 12, 2021, veteran airline pilot Captain Craig Alexander filed five claims, including misappropriation and theft of trade secrets, against Delta Air Lines in Dekalb County, Georgia. The claim alleges that his software was stolen for the innovative Delta texting app and messaging platform that would “revolutionize flight operations” by giving flight crews (pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, baggage handlers, food service, etc.) a modern way to communicate. 

“The overall value and benefit of Craig’s stolen proprietary text messaging system, based solely upon operational cost savings to Delta, conservatively exceeds $1 Billion.”

-Complaint at page 15, Craig Alexander v. Delta Air Lines Inc. et al., case number 21A03275

The Issue

Captain Alexander, who has been a commercial pilot for 21 years and more than 11 of those with Delta, said he got this idea when “Snowmageddon” hit the Atlanta area in January 2014. During that unforeseen weather anomaly, the thousands of cancelled flights caused chaos among flight crews who only had 2-way radios and jetway phones to communicate with each other.

Soon after, he created QrewLive, a proprietary platform designed for flight crews to communicate via text message and through the app. He knew his platform would save Delta “hundreds of millions of dollars” each year. Alexander spent over $100,000 of his personal money to develop the platform to create a working prototype model. 

QrewLive wireframe Delta complaint July 2021
Wireframe mockup of the QrewLive text messaging platform

In April 2014, he told then-Delta CEO Richard Anderson about his product, who was immediately impressed and replied, “You have no idea how relevant your timing is for the Company.” The Delta IT team became involved, asking Alexander how QrewLive would work into their 5 year IT plan. Communications between both parties continued, and “at Delta’s request,” Captain Alexander continued to develop QrewLive as a stand-alone text messaging platform over the next year.

Once it was time for an official agreement, Delta told Alexander that his text messaging system didn’t “fit” Delta’s plans.

Delta Flight Family Communication 2
The Flight Family Communication app, courtesy of Delta.com

Two years later in April 2016, after a 5-hour power outage caused Delta to lose $150m in one day, Alexander reached out directly to Delta’s new CEO, Ed Bastion, to discuss QrewLive. Bastion agreed that Delta “absolutely need[s] alternative messaging capability.” Delta signed an MNDA at Craig’s insistence, which was followed by multiple meetings and presentations showing off QrewLive’s capabilities. His complaint states that Delta confirmed their intent to purchase the text-messaging platform from QrewLive. To move forward, Alexander only needed a signed contract.

…Delta went radio silent for 8 months. 

Then, in April 2018, Captain Alexander saw the announcement that Delta was launching its own text-message based app called “Flight Family Communication” (“FFC”).

Delta Flight Family Communication 1
Courtesy of Delta.com

Not surprisingly, after the app launched, Delta reported a 45% decrease in flight crew travel time across the jet bridge and a 65% increase in the ability for flights to leave on time when there is less than the allotted time to depart. “On an average day, approximately 11,000 messages are sent using the platform.” Initial calculations say Delta will save between $48m and $85m per year. Alexander claims that the FFC will save Delta over $1 billion based on “conservative” estimates.

“By stealing Craig’s QrewLive text messaging platform, however, Delta’s horse-and-buggy technology program took a quantum leap, moving from something akin to two-tin-cans-and-a-string to the iPhone 13 in an impossibly short period of time.” 

Complaint at page 14, Craig Alexander v. Delta Air Lines Inc. et al., case number 21A03275

The Arguments

Alexander claims the following:

  1. Misappropriation and Theft of Trade Secrets (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-760 et seq.)
  2. Civil Conspiracy to Steal and Misappropriate Trade Secrets
  3. Breach of Contract
  4. Breach of fiduciary duty 
  5. Fraudulent Concealment 
  6. Conspiracy to violate Georgia RICO Laws (Racketeering)
  7. Attorney’s fees

Under the Georgia Trade Secrets Act, the plaintiff must prove two elements: 1) that the plaintiff had a trade secret and 2) the defendant misappropriated the trade secret.

The complaint (provided below) provides ample evidence, including timestamped emails and relevant screenshots of the signed mutual non-disclosure agreement (MNDA) to make a valid claim for trade secret misappropriation under Georgia law. 

A trade secret under the United Trade Secret Act is any information that: 1) is not generally known to the public, 2) gives the owner a competitive advantage, and 3) steps were taken to maintain its secrecy.  

Where We’re At Now

Delta has not provided a comment on this matter. We will provide an update when Delta responds.