Mobile Phones Should be Allowed on Airplanes

After talking to Emirates last year about onboard mobile phone use, I said that I was “less averse” to the idea. Now I’ve moved even further. I’ve decided to take a stand. Mobile phones should be allowed on airplanes. I know, you hate the idea, right? But there’s a lot of good that can come out of it, and I think that outweighs the bad.

Cell Phones Off

I spoke with several communications providers at the Airline Passenger Experience Association show last month, and there was a common theme out there regarding mobile phones. Use of these devices in the air is increasing worldwide, and the US is quickly becoming the only place around to still want to keep their use banned. Now that mobiles are seeing more widespread use globally, we can finally judge whether the fears in the US are merited or not.

The reality is that it hasn’t been much of a problem at all so far, and that’s probably due to the rate structure. The way it’s set up, you can think of airplanes as a separate country in the mobile world. Just as you would roam when you go to any other country, you roam when you get on an airplane. If you have an international plan, you would be able to make calls, receive text messages, and surf the web as your plan allows.

And a lot of people do just that. If you need to tell someone you’re late or change the spot where you want to meet, a quick text message will do the trick. Or a quick email can do the same and it won’t cost much. And yes, if you need to actually call Aunt Bessie to tell her where to bring the Cadillac to meet you, you can do that as well, but roaming charges can ramp up quickly. So it’ll be a quick conversation.

Everyone’s worst nightmare is getting stuck next to the valley girl who giggles and screams with her friend on the other line throughout the flight. That’s just not happening and it’s not likely to happen. (If it does, her parents will never let her out of the house again.) Yes, I’m sure that at some point this will happen, but social pressure and flight attendant intervention can solve that problem (along with determined staring at close range).

You’re far more likely to get stuck next to a gregarious seatmate who wants to talk your ear off all flight anyway. Phones just aren’t proving to be a problem. That could change if rates plunged, but I don’t see that happening in the near future.

But if that were to happen, the airline doesn’t even have to allow phone calls at all. Look at British Airways, for example. Using the system from OnAir, with whom I spoke at the show, on their A318 flights between New York and London/City, you can send text messages or surf the web using your mobile network, but you can’t make phone calls. They’ve turned that functionality off.

Now, the US itself does make things difficult in that most of the world is centering on the GSM standard for inflight while many in the US use CDMA. That’s something that can be addressed, but not until it’s made legal to use your phone in the first place. I’m convinced that there is more benefit to be had than there is potential harm to be made. Let’s open up the rules and see what happens.

[Original Photo via Flicker user Kai Hendry]

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58 Comments on "Mobile Phones Should be Allowed on Airplanes"

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JC Whattheheck
Guest
Brett- I think you are wrong on this one. It is unfortunate that much of the American public seems to be in selfish “me” mode in public places. Have you been to the movies lately ? Even though there are plenty of nice video clips asking for cell phones to be silenced, many are not and these boorish boobs continue texting and talking. Why bother buying a ticket to the movies ? I probably sound overly negative but I envision the day with the idiot next to me on my flight to Vegas “yapping” all the way there about all… Read more »
Cyndi vandiver
Guest
Exactly! Americans are a self centered vs the rest of the world. All about me, I have to line up on the red carpet to get on the plane first, and must get my upgrade. They won’t care how the person next to them feels or how the poor flight attendant trying to offer them a drink feels when they are chatting on the phone. Its all fine and dandy to say “quick e-mail, quick text” in reality, it will be me, me, me how great am I and does EVERYBODY on this 767 know, that I am busy on… Read more »
james
Guest

You might consider a modifier before “Americans.” Quite the broad brush you’re verbally painting with…

frank
Guest
I agree with Cyndi. After THREE ANOUNNCEMENTS and a verbal face to face, “that needs to be TURNED OFF”, there is a arrogance about passengers who think they dont need to follow the “RULES”. Cellphones on flights? Why stop there, let’s add GAMBLING. Ohh, that SCREAM YOU HEARD was someone winning $1000.00 bucks at their seat. Lets NOT be so quick to think a flight attendant can and will get involved in EVERY passenger altercation over this issue. We’re busy. You’re adults, arent YOU? If this does come onto flights, there better be a NO PHONE ZONE onboard. There’s enough… Read more »
robert
Guest
Anon
Guest

With these systems phones onboard don’t connect to towers on the ground, the onboard systems (and phones) are only switched on only above a certain altitude. The onboard system is effectively an onboard tower, and it commands all phones onboard to connect to it at their lowest power.

Wonko Beeblebrox
Guest

If you are going to talk on your phone in flight, and basically force me to listen to your conversation… then I’m going to read my book out loud….

Oliver
Guest

Good one! Be sure to read out only every other sentence to fully give the experience of “half the story” to your seat mate.

Michael H
Guest
Brett – I’m with the commenter crowd on this one, and always have been since forever. The airplane is the last refuge of the connected lifestyle. Sure, airborne wifi is closing that gap – but the lack of phonecalls aboard still keeps the plane peaceful. For the love of all things holy let it stay that way lest you risk death by seat mate. It’s bad enough that I have to spend a whole journey to the office on board public transport listening to the prattling of all and sundry. I enjoy being able to board the plane, and the… Read more »
nab
Guest

The easiest way to handle boorish people who want to have conversations in public places is to join in on their conversations. Ask questions, give advice, and eventually the person will hang up in self defense.

Jason H
Guest

I am completely with Brett on this one. The banning of cellphones is a silly rule. Will some people abuse the freedom to make calls while in flight? Yes. However, the vast majority of people will not. And if you are next to someone that is talking, do as Nab suggests. It really works well.

Greg Wesson
Guest
I have to admit, I’ve shifted my view on this one. I used to be fully against mobile phones on flights, but now I wouldn’t be against it. Partially it is because we haven’t seen any disruption with the pay in-seat phones. In generally, nobody uses them, and they seem to have quietly disappeared from most flights I take. There doesn’t seem to be much of a thirst for gabbing on a phone while flying. Mostly, though, it is viewing how people are using mobiles nowadays. Even in North America, more and more people are shifting from using mobiles as… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

I approve SMS usage with the ringer muted. No voice calls, no loud obnoxious “new text has arrived” ring tones.

(of course I realize no one cares about what I approve)

The question is – how much are the airlines/providers going to charge for this service, and is it going to turn into another in-seat-phone or GoGo situation where usage is very limited?

David SF eastbay
Member
I never saw many (if any) using seat back phones when airlines had them. I know I used one once because I was coming home early and didn’t have time to call a friend from the airport (before cell phones) for an earlier ride home. But that was a quick call. I have been on a commuter train where you could hear people talking half a car length away and I have had the person sitting next to me talking on the phone and didn’t even know it since they were very quiet and the train makes noise that helps… Read more »
david
Member

I fear it might not be many people talking on their cell phones at first, due to high costs, but like everything else, I would assume the costs would lower over time, allowing more people to talk.

I think there is too much money involved for airlines and cell phone providers not to jump on this sooner or later…so I guess we will all see if Americans can behave as well as the rest of the world.

David

David SF eastbay
Member

David the answer is no, Americans can’t behave like the rest of the world. The ‘it’s all about me’ generation doesn’t know how.

david
Member

I am not only afraid of people being rude on the phone, but also others being rude to the people who are on the phone, causing a real fun scene.

David

Zach
Guest
David Parker Brown hits it on the head here with the descending cost argument. Additionally, I don’t think that you can compare seatback phones, which in their heyday charged truly exhorbitant connection fees and minute-by-minute rates, with current international roaming plans. Yes, it is easy to rack up big bills when roaming internationally, but think about it: who is most likely to be yakking away on his or her Blackberry in these types of situations? Cranky is right that it won’t be the teenage girl (she’ll be busy texting, and that’s just fine). No, it will be even worse than… Read more »
Asad
Guest

You are 100% right on this one, as one of the people on a company plan I never pay attention to what my rate is anywhere in the world. And if my boss finds out that I can talk while on a flight I will be invited to meetings and expected to contribute. To just hope that everyone behaves and plays nice is naive.

ASFalcon13
Guest
What’s funny to me is that a lot of businessfolks don’t realize that working on a laptop or talking on the cellphone about work in a public setting, like a commuter train or an airliner, is absolutely terrible practice from an IT security standpoint. Ok, you go ahead and work on your company’s latest figures on your laptop, and talk loudly into your phone about that upcoming takeover bid. I’m sure the gentlemen from the competing company sitting in the seat next to or behind you is more than happy to keep his mouth shut and take notes, and probably… Read more »
ASFalcon13
Guest

Just to clarify, by “my company”, I mean “the company I work for”. I don’t mean to claim I’m any sort of bigwig.

Zach
Guest

Excellent point!

Steve
Guest
I also think you are wrong. I am sure if you took a poll, you would find business travelers HATE HATE HATE this idea. Are you kidding me? Are you expecting already overworked and sleep deprived flight attendants to be the cabin police? They can barely make sure folks are storing their junk under the seats and have turns all electronic devices off. Many do not, they just hide them when flight attendants come through. Good news is that digital cell phone signals are received, so batteries just go dead searching for signals. If you want to come down on… Read more »
john96
Member
As a frequent world traveler I object to the suggestions that Americans are boorish. Frankly there is a world full of boors (and A**%OL#S). We don’t have a corner on the market of jerks. Most of the Americans I meet overseas are generally pretty cool. There are some other nationalities I wouldn’t say the same about. Cell phones on planes is a bad idea because many people dont realize they are being obnoxiously loud on their mobiles. And while many times there is one or two loudmouths on a plane you can tune them out because it is a natural… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

“””””And while many times there is one or two loudmouths on a plane you can tune them out because it is a natural conversation. Phone conversations are unnatural, thus more noticeable, and more difficult to tune out.””””””

That is so true, you don’t hear 2 or more people having a conversation, but that one person having a one sided cell phone conversation can be heard loud and clear.

robert
Guest

Let’s not forget that, due to the background noise on aircraft, people will be talking even louder than normal into their phones – possibly louder still if they have to counteract that other object-of-air-travel-hate, crying babies.

wjboll
Member

Do you really think that if the US airlines were able to provide this service that the flying public with zero manners would speak softly or for a minute? Sorry Cranky, I still disagree.

kewawoman
Member

I strongly oppose the use of cell phones on airplanes. I despise hearing other people chat endlessly, and get enough of it just sitting in waiting areas. Please! I want to read or sleep or work on a plane, not listen to other people’s conversations. True, considerate people will abstain, but think about your conversation hearing range. In a 3 X 3 seat arrangement, one thoughtless person out of 18-30 in his/her voice-detection range, who carries on a conversation, will be bothering perhaps 29 other people.

Baron
Guest

Totally against it…!!! It’s bad enough having to endure the odor of gas passed by various and sundry thoughtless seatmates. Add the talking gas to the mix and put me in the cargo hold…

jaybru
Member
For us communications’ equipment technologically-illiterate (well, maybe just me), does all this mean that one could actually “receive” calls from someone on the ground while one is sitting there at 35,000 feet? Like crazy “Aunt Bessie,” calling me 12 times on a flight assuring me she’s making progress to the airport to pick me up, now that she’s finally found her car keys, but discovering she doesn’t have as much gas in her Cadillac as she thought an hour ago, and maybe I heard her operation went well, but…and on and on? [Cost means nothing to her!] Calls from my… Read more »
david
Member

That’s a good question and point. Even if the talking doesn’t annoy you, having to hear all the ring tones would be quite annoying.

Nick
Guest
I completely disagree with this notion of allowing voice cell phone use. Think about when you land and the number of people who have insanely loud sound clips that play when they turn on their phones? Or, what about the person who can’t hear and speaks so loudly that most of the plane can hear them? It will certainly make an already (at times) frustrating experience that more unbearable. Furthermore, I reject people’s assertion that it’s just us “Me” generation folks who are completely uncouth and lacking in phone etiquette (I and my pride ourselves on being appropriate users of… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Nick I know when I used the phase ‘me’ generation I did not state an age group. Today the ‘me’ generation refers to many people as people today just think of themselves and have the ‘rules don’t apply to me’ attitude. Young or old so many people these days don’t think about others or have basic manners.

Robin
Guest

Please. I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 25 years and in that time the climate of our job and responsibilities have increased dramatically while our pay has decreased relatively. We work with skeleton crews and for much longer duty days. To add communications monitor to our expanded litany of babysitting chores would just add insult to injury. I think most of us would agree that people traveling these days, domestically, shouldn’t ever be left alone with a cell phone and certainly never on a plane.

Nick
Guest

Amen, Robin! You all have it hard enough as it is…let alone having to deal with crazy cell phone users…

SAN Greg
Guest

Cranky – You’re wrong. Period. You often have strong convincing arguments, but on this one I think you’ve earned your own award. ;)

David SF eastbay
Member

We used to have smoking or nonsmoking on planes, so now maybe it should be phone or no phone section. One will need to be a sealed sound proof area. Makes the double desk A380 look more attractive of an airplane. One deck for phone users and the other for nonphone users……LOL

Addison Schonland
Guest

Go for it Brett! It has been a lonely place taking a stand in favor of in-flight calls. Glad you joined the ranks of those in favor of in-flight calls. It never used to be a problem and won’t be in future either.

fred
Guest
For the most part, I don’t think that calls would be good. As the comments above have said, people will be talking extra loud due to the airplane noise. And even on the largest airplanes you will be able to hear someone else on the phone from halfway down the airplane. That being said, I do agree that it would be convenient at times. Maybe allowing calls for the first and last 15 minutes you can use electronic devices after takeoff and before landing, so you can call friends who will pick you up at the airport, call someone to… Read more »
kelty
Member

Last time I was in an airport lounge, I learned about a lady’s gastric problems and a gentleman’s million dollar deal. For some reason, people talk loudly and in public on cell phones. The reason may be that the poor feedback on the other end makes them think they have to speak more loudly.
Instead, on airline flights they should be able to use visual communications such as the Blackberry or text messages.

al_9000
Member

I’m against it. I’ve noticed that the length and loudness of cell phone calls seem to be inversely related to their importance. Give a yahoo an inch …

JM
Guest

CF,

I normally agree with you, but not this time. Sadly, civility is already quite low on airplanes. Allowing cell phones on board will allow the most boorish on board to make bad flights even more unbearable.

JM

PF
Guest

Absolutely no phone calls – it’s about the only place to avoid people. Elevators are not even safe anymore. On the plane people talking on them after the main cabin door is closed – talking or texting and “not getting caught” most of the time – it’s all about me, me, me and my I I I phone – forget it, turn them off.

coldtusker
Member
Nope. Nyet. No. I still recall a dreadful episode when a guy was on the phone for my entire 1 hour train ride! What he thought he should be paid, how much he was paid, what he thinks he will be paid… None of the other passengers (myself included) had the guts or ‘rudeness’ to tell him to shut the eff up! Phone conversations carry. They are annoying to most of us within earshot. So I hope this remains a no-no especially in economy class where we sit cheek by jowl… where I can hear the passenger in the next… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I think many people wouldn’t actually end up using this. I just got back from a trip to Canada, and while I used my phone as an organizational tool, and I got on the internet with it when it was in the range of WiFi, I didn’t use its voice or texting features, they just cost too much.

Dub
Guest

Hi Cranky, normally I wouldn’t leave a comment to say the same thing that a zillion others have said but I’m so vehemently opposed to this idea that I can’t be quiet….

Bruce
Guest

I personally hate the idea. I used to fly Emirates a lot, and they have mobile capability on some of their flights. I was on one flight where the guy behind me was jabbing on for hours….its was a totally miserable experience.

BW
Guest

Your personal comfort is not more important than freedom. We need less government intervention in our lives, not more. When you think there ought to be a law for something, there probably shouldn’t.

If enough people are serious about “quiet” flights, the market will serve the need. If not, it certainly wasn’t important enough to legislate.

Jarvis
Guest

One thing that came to mind for me; I have a Blackberry which has UMA functionality. Now what happens, if an airline allows wifi on their flight but not gsm connection. I could (providing the router is compatible) connect my phone to the wifi and still be able to make calls using uma. How would they necessarily get around this?

Nick Barnard
Member

I’d expect that they block SIP which is what most VoIP runs over. UMA doesn’t seem to be the same, but I’d expect it has its own ports that it runs over.

Another concern is the lower bandwidth combined with multiple users could result in excess jitter and packet loss on the line making it unusable for VoIP without being prioritized, which I’m sure the airline doesn’t do..

Simone Cannon de Bastardo
Guest
Please, not the last bastion of peace and quiet, the airline cabin! From riding long distance buses and trains throughout the world where cell phones are permitted, I can tell you first hand that “social pressure and flight attendant intervention” do nothing to stop obnoxious cell phone users. For some reason, these people a) have never heard of the function “vibrate” on their phones, which ring with increasingly loud and annoying Ricky Martin ringtones all night long, b) insist on talking at a volume level that appears that they are trying to be heard over a heavy metal band, and… Read more »
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