January 14th, 2014
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering a proposal to allow cellular coverage on planes, a service that might include making phone calls over the Internet, but it would be up to each specific airline to determine whether flyers can make calls in the air. While the FCC has not made a final decision as to whether it will allow cellphone use during flights using cellular coverage, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will make the final decision. If the DOT agrees to in-flight cellular coverage, then airlines still would have the right to enforce their own rules, as previously mentioned. Just last month, the FCC lifted its ban on use of personal electronic devices like Kindles, iPads, and Laptops under 10,000 feet, due to the fact that they do not interfere with cockpit instruments.
However, there have already been a few airlines, including, Delta and JetBlue have made the decision to ban in-flight VoIP, which is a common way to communicate in business settings with PBX phone systems. Just last week, Delta’s CEO has sent a company-wide memo to all employees saying Delta would not be allowing cellular or VoIP calls on any flights. However, Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO, said that the airline is working to allow customers to use text, email, and other silent data transmission services from “gate to gate,” once the ban on cell phones is officially lifted by the FCC.
JetBlue provides a new in-flight Wi-Fi service, known as Sky-Fi, allowing users to access the Internet on flights. Last week, JetBlue opened up a small window where flyers could make calls via VoIP from a commercial airliner and while they discouraged these phone calls, they would not enforce rules against it and would handle situations on a case-by-case basis. However, after an outcry from disturbed passengers, JetBlue officially retracted the use of VoIP on their flights. JetBlue recently stated, “We’ve heard from many customers and the majority have shared that they do not want voice or video calls allowed onboard. We currently do not allow customers to use VoIP onboard. Our inflight team will enforce this as they would enforce any other onboard policy.”
These airlines believe that voice calls in the cabins would be a disruption for the travel experience for flyers. In a Delta Survey in 2012, the majority of customers, as well as employees, said that the ability to make voice calls onboard would detract from their flying experience. Due to the disturbance that voice calls might provide other passengers, it’s unlikely that many flights will allow VoIP or cellular coverage on their flights. But as JetBlue demonstrated, there might be a glimpse of hope to find a happy medium where a small window of time is allowed for phone calls, particularly on business flights.