Cellphones service on planes could bring more than greater connectivity



Virgin Atlantic recently announced that a select few passengers will soon be able to make calls on their cellphones and use their mobile devises on the airline's Airbus A330 and Boeing 747 flying between London and New York.

In the coming months Lufthansa, Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Cathay Pacific, SAS and Gulf Air all plan to launch in-flight mobile services of their own. 

Increasingly airlines are promising more cell phone coverage at 35,000 feet. 

But as more airlines offer mobile in-flight services, experts warn of a host of potential problems, from increased cabin noise, to in-flight fights.

The Federal Communications Commission currently bans cellphone calls from airplanes on U.S. flights, but there have been efforts to ease restrictions.  In February Congress passed a bill without a controversial provision that would have imposed a permanent federal ban on the inflight use of mobile phones, and instead required the Federal Aviation Administration to study the impact of cell phones on aircraft. 

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Businessman and author Grant Cardone who is campaigning for airlines to allow their passengers to use portable devices says it’s about time that Virgin and other airlines offer cellphone in-flight service.

“Thirty years ago they made a phone call to the moon,” he said. “They are thinking about providing value, service and an experience - not just a safe airplane with a clean cabin.”

But pilots and flight attendants say that the in-flight cabin is already stressful enough and they don't want to referee arguments between passengers over loud cellphone calls.

Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman with Association of Flight Attendants, told in a statement: “The AFA continues to support the ban on in-flight cell phone use as it could make it difficult for Flight Attendants to perform their primary duty of ensuring passenger safety.”

Cardone, who recently received a letter from the FAA issuing him a warning after he admitted on television that he used is iPad mid-flight to capture footage of a bird strike, says airlines need to change with passengers demands.  

“Airlines are in the people business.  People have behaved themselves since 9/11.  If flight attendants have a problem, it is because they are exercising bad control and/or creating the problem themselves.“

Al Alnok, a travel lawyer, says the bigger issue may be about what will happen while flight attendants try to keep the peace in an airborne cabin.

For example, he says, in a restaurant or theatre when a rude phone user does not take a hint, someone may yell and tell the user to stop talking.  If they do the same thing on an air carrier, a passenger could land in legal hot water.

“If a disturbance breaks out with hostile voices and someone disobeys the attendant, then the police will be waiting for the unruly passenger when the plane lands.  I have seen this “flight attendant rage” go to the extent that the attendant claims the passenger brushed against him/her and this then becomes a felony assault meaning a $50,000 bail just for the passenger to get to court at a later time to describe what happened.”

It’s unclear if widespread mobile connectivity will be available for passengers flying in the U.S. anytime soon.  But it’s important to remember that this is just another revenue generating service for airlines, and if certain passengers don’t want it, it may never get off the ground.