Battle Over Inflight Smartphone Use

“I’ve just landed.”  How many times have you heard someone shout that into their cellphone as you taxi to the gate? Aren’t you glad you don’t have to listen to the person in the seat behind you yell into their phone “Honey, I can see Greenland” when you’re flying the polar route from SEA to AMS? We’re not allowed to make cellphone calls in the air. But airlines do allow Internet calls.

Skype, Viber and other calling services available via broadband represent the latest tiff between the FAA, the FCC, the Association of Flight Attendants, that person behind you, and you.

The FCC forbids cellphone calls on aircraft, saying it interferes with networks on the ground. But above 10,000 feet airlines permit the use of electronics like smartphones and tablets because they’ve proven to the FAA that transmissions don’t interfere with avionics. The Consumer Electronics Association reports some 300 aircraft in the U.S. have broadband access. In five years they expect that number to reach 7,000.

Alaska, America, Delta, Southwest, United and US Airways all offer broadband, but only Delta and Southwest prohibit voice calls using broadband because of the disruption to other passengers.

Now comes the Telecommunications Industry Association telling the FAA they can’t dictate what the Internet is used for. Why allow a streaming movie but not Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)?

Flight attendants say calls disrupt passengers and distract from safety announcements. Delta cites a survey suggesting more than 60 percent of passengers would find talking heads a negative while flying.

Nonetheless, Delta wants the FAA to allow electronic devices anytime except during safety announcements. They say that in the past three years, covering more than 2.3 million flights, there were maybe three cases of interference affecting avionics.

It’s been reported by numerous news services that a Delta spokesperson has stated that the benefits of inflight electronic services outweigh “the extreme low risk of an actual interference event occurring”.

Perhaps the battle lines will be drawn somewhere over Greenland. Honey, can you here me?

More in:

Comments (Showing 7 of 7)

  • a7800 at 6:58am November 17, 2012

    I would find some more up to date statistics. 300 aircraft is less than half of Delta’s wi-fi enabled fleet.

  • mountainpost at 5:08pm November 17, 2012

    Thank you a7800. I, too, thought that figure of 300 aircraft was low. I wrote that post. My source was a USA Today story dated Nov. 6. My wife is a reporter there and I trust USA Today’s fact -checking. But I’m sure you’re right. I ask you to please forgive my possible mistake and consider the larger issue of cell phone calls made by a seat mate. I’m relatively new to flyteralk and what surprises me is the negativity. I maybe made a mistake and I’ll own up to it. Come Monday I’ll contact Delta for the exact number of planes offering wi-fi. Until then, please accept mu apologies.

  • meecal at 5:36pm November 17, 2012

    No worries about the number. Another heads up though: The appropriate word for the closing line is “hear,” not “here.”

  • fishferbrains at 6:07am November 19, 2012

    There are over 700 aircraft using GogoAir alone:

  • mountainpost at 5:22pm November 19, 2012

    Thank you fisherbrains … and thank you meecal, i just had no idea there were two ways to write here, hear ….. dang, i really feel like a stupid fool, seriously … i won’t bother you again by posting my dribble

  • franzilorenzo at 11:31am November 26, 2012

    Very interesting comments here. If you are looking for quantitative answers to this question, you can have a look at
    It seems that 43% of passengers agree on the data only and no voice on airplanes

  • azmojo at 6:28am January 08, 2013

    Phones do NOT interefer with the avionics. I actually develop test systems for the companies that make avionics and the wire and wiring methods we use are much much less stringent than what is used on the aircraft (i.e., unshielded wire vs shielded wire). The test labs are full of computers, electronics, and people with cell phones. I have yet to see any interference from any electronics in the test lab.

Leave Reply

You must be a logged in member to post a comment. Click here to Register.