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.
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.