So you’re finally sitting comfortably in your seat, kicked off your shoes, the plane is cruising smoothly at 30,000 feet, you’ve ordered a drink and you’re five minutes into a good movie. Suddenly a mobile phone rings shrilly and the woman sitting next to you answers it.
“YeahhowareyouyeahI’m fine yeah. Yeahyeahwe’vejustakenoffandtheflightisOKsofar. Andyeahyeahwhatdidyousay? Ohreallyhowwasthatforyou? NoIdunnowhatwewillgetfordinneryet. Ohmygoddidhereallysaythat? Whatareyougonnadoaboutit? Whatabastardtodosomethinglikethat.”
Unfettered use of mobile phone calls on planes. Is this what we want? Some say it’s freedom of consumer choice, while others say no way. In 2012 a Delta Airlines survey of passengers revealed 64% were against mobile phone use on flights.
Planes are the only form of long-distance travel where we can escape the vacuous chatter of every day life. Wifi won’t disturb your neighbour, who is half a jostled armrest away, but phone calls and text messages are another thing. I like switching off. So do most people I know. Part of the pleasure of plane travel is sitting back and chilling out, watching back-to-back movies, or curling up with a book and being brought meals and stiff drinks. The thought of being trapped in the next seat to someone blabbing away on her/his mobile, because she/he can, is enough to bring on a case of Air Rage.
It’s possible to escape blah blah blah on domestic public transport, and some urban train services have “quiet carriages” where no phones or noise-making devices are allowed. But avoiding someone else’s verbal dysentery on a plane is nigh impossible, especially if the plane is full.
In Australia, Telstra plans to provide 4G mobile broadband access for domestic flights, using ground transmitters to send signals to aircraft. The testing of the “Skinet” network on mock flights between Melbourne and Sydney has so far delivered fast speeds of up to 15 megabits per second. About 1 to 2 megabits per second is needed by mobile phone users on the ground to download a video or music.
But the good news is that a full rollout of mobile phone connectivity on planes is likely to be a few years away yet.
- At the moment, 4000 planes – or about 20% of all commercial aircraft – are equipped with internet or mobile phone technology but about 75% of these have wifi only.
- Airlines offering both on long hauls include Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.
- It’s estimated that up to 30% of passengers neglect to put their phones into flight mode or turn them off.
- Last December the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US voted 3-2 to consider lifting its ban on in-flight mobile phone use. On the same day, the federal Department of Transportation and three members of Congress took steps to block phone calls.
- In the European Union restrictions were lifted in 2013. Up to a point.
- Virgin Atlantic allows unlimited data connections to all passengers, but the airline lets only six people talk on a mobile phone at the same time.
- Most Lufthansa flights allow only data connections through a mobile and no phone calls.
- British Airways passengers are now able to text, make phone calls, check emails and play with other devices as soon as aircraft land and taxi off the runway.
- In Australia, Qantas also allows passengers to use their phones as soon as the plane has landed and is taxiing towards the terminal.
How wonderful to know you can make that all-important phone call announcing to the whole cabin: “Yeah baby, we’ve landed!”
In the end, it might be the cost that would keep use to a minimum. It will cost telcos millions of dollars to install the equipment, and you’ll have to then pay for your calls. Wireless carriers could foreseeably charge a peak rate per minute and roaming charges could apply if your carrier’s network isn’t supported on your flight.
If mainstream phone use does come into effect, airlines may be forced to allocate “quiet zones” where devices can’t be used.
Bring it on!