Remember these? They were aboard a lot of flights, barely used and cause no disruptions.

Remember these? They were aboard a lot of flights, barely used and cause few disruptions. Would personal cell phones be worse?

People on cell phones can be very annoying. However our society runs on cell phones. Using cell phones to talk on airplanes in the United States is banned, but not in all places of the world.

Mary Kirby, on her blog RunwayGirl, took a look at cellphone usage on airlines that already allow it.

AeroMobile, who currently provides cell phone service on 60 of Emirates’ aircraft, had over 11,000 voice calls in February 2010. Yes, with the vast number of passengers who flew on Emirates during that time, it is not an overwhelming percentage, but 11,000 calls still shows there is a demand for airborne phone conversations.

Kirby’s blog has lot of interesting graphs showing how cell phone calls from flights are greatly increasing. There has been talk of cell phone calls being allowed on US flights in the near future.

My personal opinion? Ugh.

First off all, I am not a fan of talking on the phone. I prefer email, texting and using Twitter vs talking on the phone.  The fact that I am not reachable by phone, is ok by me. However, the airline industry doesn’t run based on just what I want (would be cool if they did).  I know it would be a revenue builder for airlines, but would it be worth it?

Some ask, “How is it any different from two people talking to each other, who are sitting next to you?” There’s a big difference. A lot of people on cell phones are louder and less aware of their environment. I have been on buses, trains, in just general public and heard people talk about things on a cell phone they would never talk about that loudly in person (once I even heard a person even gave their full credit card number, date of birth and other personal information loudly over their cellphone). How many times do I need to hear,  “Can you hear me now?”

Currently the FAA does not allow cell phones to be turned on during flight in the US, from fear the signals  could interfere with the airplane’s equipment. However, many flights globally have shown that cell phones cause no threat to airlines  (Myth Busters also showed they caused no harm a while back as well).

My initial reaction has been to keep cell phones banned, but am I off base?  I mean, cell phones have been active in flights since 2007 around the world and there hasn’t been any backlash or huge fights caused like some had predicted. Of course calls are limited since not many airlines offer it. They are expensive and only a few lines are offered on each flight, but those can all change. Many airlines are already moving towards offering internet on flights, should cell phones be next?

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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Ben Brooks

There are several factors in the cell phone discussion that have not been mentioned.

First, the average cell tower has a service volume of only about 9 square miles, 3mi x 3mi. This translates to a straight line range of as little as 1.5 miles from the antenna. Thus, if you are in an aircraft that is above 1.5 miles (8,000′) above the ground, you usually won’t get a signal anyway. The airliner you are in is travelling about 7 miles a minute, so even if you did get a “bar” or two they would fade after just a few seconds. Add to this the fact that cell coverage isn’t desiged for airborne use, and the signal gets even spottier.

Second,the FAA requires electronic devices to be turned off for takeoff and landing for more reasons than just the possible signal interference issue. The laws are also intended to promote safety by ensuring people are not distracted or unable to hear important announcements during critical phases of flight such as the safety briefing, taxi-out, takeoff, and landing. This is why the airlines can let you use a headset plugged into their entertainment system, but not your i-pod, during those times; the onboard system cuts off during PA announcements. Same with the flight phones, entertainment systems, or inflight wi-fi; These systems can all be turned off or overridden by the crew during takeoff and landing or whenever else they deem prudent for safety.

Third, another safety issue with cell phones on airplanes is the distinct possibility that an obnoxious talker would be pummeled into submission by the people sitting near him. (This is not totally a joke… there have been cases!)

The third statement above is why I don’t support cell phone use in flight. Its bad enough on a bus or at the airport in the gate area…but trapped in a tube…I’ll applaud the first person who takes the phone away from an obnoxious talker and sends it to the blue waters of the lav tanks.

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