Telephone Calls: Should They Be Allowed During Flight?

E ffective immediately, commercial airlines may now allow passengers to use portable electronic devices throughout the entire flight — without the requirement for the devices to be switched to “airplane mode” — from origination gate to destination gate in this latest regulatory step towards enabling the ability to offer ‘gate-to-gate’ telecommunication or Wi-Fi services, according to this press release from the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Those airlines which decide to allow the use of portable electronic devices throughout the entire flight will be required to undergo an assessment process in order to ensure that aircraft systems are not affected in any way by the transmission signals from the portable electronic devices.

This measure follows the initial action from the European Aviation Safety Agency back in December of 2013 toward permitting the use of PEDs through almost all stages of flight, when the ‘Airplane Mode’ not transmitting was allowed.

Meanwhile, 77 members of the House of Representatives of the United States recently sent this letter to the heads of Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission which strongly urged for the continuation of the current prohibition of the use of mobile broadband devices in airplanes during flights. “The letter also requested that risks to aviation safety and security arising from the proposed expansion of communications capability be addressed in a collaborative, multi-agency effort”, according to this news release from The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), which is the largest flight attendant union in the world representing nearly 60,000 flight attendants at 19 airline carriers. “The use of wireless communication devices should be subject to a multi-agency review that explores possible adverse effects by a diverse group of experts who are able address risks or even mitigate future threats or vulnerabilities.”

Within a month after the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States and the European Aviation Safety Agency released announcements almost one year ago to allow the expansion of the usage of certain portable electronic devices to be used throughout all phases of a flight — including taxi, takeoff and landing — the Federal Communications Commission was considering a proposal to allow airline passengers to place telephone calls during a flight using their portable electronic devices while the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude.

According to this article which I wrote on November 22, 2013, in July of 2003 — after an announcement was purportedly released pertaining to a study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Transport Association intended to resolve whether or not wireless telecommunications devices on commercial flights interfered with navigational equipment — there was talk of passengers being permitted to use cellular telephones by 2006. This was compounded by both the discussion of Boeing concluding a week of demonstration flights testing the “roaming” of cellular telephones and the discussion of Airbus to have the airplanes it manufactures tested for cellular telephones by 2006. American Airlines also reportedly tested the possibility of the future usage of cellular telephones during flights in 2004; while SAS in 2005 considered allowing the usage of cellular telephones by passengers aboard airplanes during flights but then decided against it in 2008 as a result of customer feedback.

Regardless, frequent fliers for years have generally opposed the very thought of allowing passengers to use a mobile telephone during a flight — even though the reality of passengers one day using wireless telecommunications devices aboard commercial airplanes during flights has been a possibility for years. Some frequent fliers even vowed to quit traveling on airplanes if that ever happened.

Well, the day is now apparently here in Europe. Will they stick to their word and quit traveling on airlines in Europe?

As I have said in the past, there is a difference to me between the allowance of the operation of portable electronic devices versus permitting passengers to place telephone calls during a flight.

I realize that there is a precedent for allowing telephone calls during a flight. I do remember when airplanes were equipped with Airfone — a telephone which could be used during a flight — by either Verizon or GTE. The rates were $3.99 per minute plus a connection fee of $3.99 — which equated to eight dollars for that first minute. I used the Airfone service exactly once for a very abrupt telephone call because I needed to update someone with important information.

The high cost of using Airfone discouraged many passengers from using that service. When someone did use it, it was usually only for a few minutes at best — hardly an inconvenience to fellow passengers.

By the way, Airfone was acquired by Gogo back in 2012.

I would support the used of “texting” using a mobile telephone or tablet. I might even relent and say that telephone calls can be permitted during a flight for a fee bordering on exorbitant to discourage passengers from engaging in long conversations. However, the last thing that I want during a flight is to hear a one-sided conversation about some business transaction loudly announced by some buffoon who has no respect or consideration for the peace and quiet of his or her fellow passengers — especially if I am attempting to relax after a long day; or if I did not get enough sleep the night before; or if I had experienced some horrific delays.

You may as well seat me next to a crying baby. It can be that irritating.

Regardless of whether or not mobile telephones can operate properly during a flight — with or without the technological assistance of an airlines — I originally proposed this compromise last year which should still be considered: designate a specific area of the aircraft where passengers may use cellular telephones to place calls during a flight — and possibly have the airlines charge an ancillary fee. Those passengers would not be denied the opportunity to place telephone calls; other passengers would not have to deal with any potential etiquette and rudeness issues; and the airline can actually profit in the process.

Should passengers be permitted to use wireless telecommunications devices aboard commercial airplanes during flights? If so, what do you believe would be the best compromise to ensure that as many people are as happy as possible?

What are your thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Telephone Calls: Should They Be Allowed During Flight?”

  1. Wendy M says:

    Only allow texting and not phone calls…..either that or you give your fellow passengers the privilege of giving your phone a burial at sea in the lav. I despise cell phones and I do not want to listen to someone’s cell phone conversation. Make it a law that phones must be set to silent. I also don’t want to hear ringing phones for the entire flight,

  2. Darth Chocolate says:

    No. Next question.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Your wish is my command, Darth Chocolate. Here is the next question:

      Should Frequent Flier Loyalty Programs Be Regulated by the United States Government?

  3. Captain says:

    No way. A couple of weeks ago, I was on a red eye. A female passenger about my age sat next to me. She hacked up a lung and sniffled the entire flight. The second we landed she jumped on her phone and proceeded to explain very loudly to the person on the other end that she was disgusting and “smelled like sweaty balls”. Really Hot.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That would have been a great conversation to overhear while dining on a meal served during a flight…

  4. Jennifer Beale says:

    techniaclly if you pay for wifi you could make calls via FaceTime audio or video, Skype, g-talk etc. don’t think people would talk for long, plane moves so fast would constantly be jumping towers & networks – that’s the bigger issue.

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