Most Middle East airlines and a few in Asia and Europe already allow voice calls on planes. Passengers’ cellphone signals are either relayed via a satellite or through a special “picocell” to the ground. Voice calls technically can be made on some U.S. planes today via satellite, but airlines block providers such as Skype, in part because they fear it will eat up the limited bandwidth.
Within hours of the FCC’s announcement, the cellphone industry voiced its support. Airlines already charge for Internet access. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine them charging for phone use.
Allowing calls isn’t so much a safety issue as one about what is socially acceptable.
“There are simply far too many people who consider themselves too important to stop talking as a courtesy to other passengers, especially when, given airplane background noise, they’ll probably have to talk louder than usual,” said Benjamin Stolt, who flies nearly 200,000 miles a year.
Ultimately, it might be left up to the airlines to decide.
American and United Airlines said they would wait for an FCC decision and then study the issue. Delta Air Lines was much more firm, saying passenger feedback for years has shown “overwhelming” support for a ban.
JetBlue and Southwest also noted a desire for silence, but added that tastes and desires change.
“If everyone starts doing it and it becomes culturally acceptable, we’d have to consider it,” said Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins. “But no one thinks it’s a good idea.”