Recently I got a call on my phone where I didn’t recognize the number, so I decided not to answer. Then they called again. Okay, fine — it might be something important so I answered and it turned out to be my friend Nick. Wait a second; #1 why is he calling with a number I do not know and #2 he is flying on Delta Air Lines from Minneapolis (MSP) to Seattle (SEA), how is that possible? Even though airlines and internet providers have tried to ban talking via phones on airliners, there are still pretty easy ways to get around it.
Earlier Nick and I had been talking about VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and I was explaining how you cannot have a phone conversation while flying — he was all too happy to prove me wrong. This is by no means a “how-to” story and I am not going to explain how he did it, since I am against people talking via their phone on planes. However, I can say it was nothing complicated and anyone with a smart phone could and an internet connection could replicate it.
So, it was possible to use GoGo Wi-Fi (internet provider on Delta and other airlines) to talk on the phone and I wondered what policies airlines and internet providers had in place to stop passengers from doing things they should not (phones, porn, etc).
I first spoke with Steven Nolan with GoGo Communications and he explained, “We do restrict VOIP services and at the request of our airline partners, we also restrict access to some web sites.” One of the big challengers is technology is always changing and it can be difficult to know all the “bad” sites and smart phone applications. What happens when someone, like Nick, finds a loophole? Well, talking to multiple airlines, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem.
Virgin America’s Abby Lunardini explained that they block VOIP and have not had any major issues with passengers finding their way around it. Alaska Airlines also bans VOIP for passengers on their GoGo internet. Even though they haven’t had a lot of issues, the flight crew are trained to enforce the airline’s policy. “Should a customer get around the VOIP blocking, our flight attendants would be prepared to enforce our policy which prohibits voice calls of any kind inflight,” Alaska Airline’s Bobbie Egan explained to AirlineReporter.com.
Row44, another airline internet provider, that can be found on Southwest Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle helps airlines in similar ways. They provide airlines software that allows them to choose what sites they want to block. “We allow our airline partners to decide whether to use this option and which sites to block,” Row 44’s chief commercial officer, Howard Lefkowitz explained over email. Row44’s airline customers are easily able to add new sites that are deemed to be a problem since new technologies are always emerging. “The back-end system supporting Row 44’s broadband entertainment platform adapts quickly and can immediately add new sites (VoIP services or other types of websites) to the list of blocked content in-flight. But this will be a decision for our airline partners.”
So does this become a game to beat the internet providers and the airlines? No, at least it shouldn’t. Public opinion in the US is pretty split on allowing in-flight conversations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) bans cell phone usage in the US and it is still against airline policy. Nick was a good passenger and kept our conversation short, even though he supports passengers being allowed to talk on their cell phones on a plane.
What are your thoughts? Other airlines around the globe let passengers talk on their cell phones with little to no issues are Americans ready?