“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?