FCC Won't Legalize Cellphones In-Flight After All

Wave goodbye to your nightmares of hearing people jabbering on cellphones in flight!

While air travel already bears an astonishing similarity to riding a city bus, you won’t have to deal with the loud-talking guy who keeps repeating “Where are you?” on his cellphone. The FCC has changed its mind, and they’re leaving the ban on in-flight use cellular phones in place. Yay!

It’s not a decision based on courtesy, or safety, or an effort to restore a genteel atmosphere to American skies. It’s because tests show that airborne cellular calls actually disrupt the reception at towers on the ground. Somehow, airlines in other countries (like Emirates and Ryanair) are getting around this technical problem, but the USA will be a no-fly zone for mobile calls.

Can you hear me now? No? Good. MARK ASHLEY

Jet passengers may not get to chat on cellphones after all [USA Today]
(Photo: KB35)

Comments

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  1. For whatever reason, I’m thankful.

    Nothing worse than 2000 miles of one sided, moronic conversation.

  2. acambras says:

    Thank God.

    I wouldn’t care if people texted to and from the plane, but I do NOT want deal with a bunch of cell conversations in such close quarters. At least in WalMart, you can walk away.

  3. From the story: “you won’t have to deal with the loud-talking guy who keeps repeating “Where are you?” on his cellphone.” They never say “Where are you?” It always is “Where are you at?” and it drives me to drink. That’s my excuse today at least.

  4. viriiman says:

    One think I’ve always thought of, but I’ve never really seen address: VoIP calls on a plane.

    I know that internet access is starting to become popular and wonder if someone would be able to make a Skype call while in flight. There may be a little lag, but it might just work.

    Anyone tried this or heard anything about it?

  5. viriiman says:

    One think I’ve always thought of, but I’ve never really seen address: VoIP calls on a plane.

    I know that internet access is starting to become popular and wonder if someone would be able to make a Skype call while in flight. There may be a little lag, but it might just work.

    Anyone tried this or heard anything about it?

    (Sorry if this is a dupe)

  6. Hawkins says:

    @zieak: Even more horrible: the “walkie-talkie” cell-phones, which bleat loadly before Cletus bellows, “Where you at”?

  7. Mark Ashley says:

    @viriiman: Re: VOIP on the plane, when Connexion by Boeing was still up and running, you used to be able to make Skype calls, but the connection wasn’t always perfect. I also heard that some airlines blocked the port that Skype runs through, to prevent users from doing this. Right now, inflight internet access is in limbo, but there are companies trying to make this happen. I’m sure we’ll revisit the VOIP-in-flight issue within a year.

  8. josher71 says:

    I would like the ability to talk on the phone during a flight so I’m sad. I realize I am in the minority opinion.

  9. adamondi says:

    At least now they are using the real reason for banning in-flight cell phone calls: The ground-based towers can’t deal with them when they are moving that quickly from tower to tower. I got really tired of the whole “If you use a cell phone, the plane will explode!!!!!1!!1111!” line that so many people were using for so long.

  10. not_seth_brundle says:

    Go Cardinals!!!! Oh, and I’m happy about the cell phone thing, too.

  11. Buran says:

    @viriiman: A dupe, like, the post right above yours …

  12. skittlbrau says:

    oh thank the good lord. between crying babies, people kicking seats, and the cramped conditions, i was wondering if the airlines could possibly make flying more unpleasant.

  13. Buran says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Ah, another St. Louisan?

  14. Buran says:

    The technical reason: phones in the air try to connect to multiple towers at once because they’re all within line of sight. This can be worked around by putting a “picocell” on the plane along with a special relay system that relays the aggregated signals of the plane’s phones to the ground. The picocell forces the phones into a low-power mode that doesn’t interfere with ground towers.

    Apparently, US airlines are too cheap to pay for this, just like they’re too cheap to pay for internet access. (That I don’t get because they were working on it, then dropped it like a hot potato. You’d think there would be demand for it).

  15. acambras says:

    @adamondi:
    I got really tired of the whole “If you use a cell phone, the plane will explode!!!!!1!!1111!” line that so many people were using for so long.

    The plane won’t, but your seatmate might.

  16. yoink says:

    Great news.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no hater. I love my cell phone. I love cell phones, but the truth is that the confined cabin of today’s ultra low cost carriers (check Zoom out – they charge you by how many millimeters of space your seat has for trans-atlantic flights) are already terrible – as a number of other commenters have mentioned – and short of giving everyone the option of an IV-drip-anasthetic, I think we can all just shut up for 20mins(Oahu to Maui)-22 Hours(Montreal to Mainland China) depending on the breaks.

    Or wait, how about talking to the person next to you. People still do that, don’t they? Hello? Crap I lost my signal.

    Back to that IV-drip…

  17. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Buran: Yep–an expat now living in the land of the Cubbies.

  18. Mojosan says:

    I always enjoy the “everyone talking on a cell phone is a mindless a**hole….except me.” attitudes. :)

  19. larry_y says:

    As far as I know, it has always been the case that the FCC (not the FAA) has prohibited cell phone use on airplanes. Cell phone systems are designed for people moving around at ground level. And then, only at speeds that max out at those found in high speed trains (ala France and Japan). The high speed makes handover (passing the call from tower to tower) tricky, and also increases the Doppler frequency shifts.

    For a more entertaining perspective: Check out Mythbusters at http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/episode/00to

    As for picocells, the Emirates are using them. See http://www.aeromobile.net/faq.asp. However, eventually you might see picocells everywhere, not just on planes.

  20. timmus says:

    That would be hilarious if there was a surcharge every time someone switched to a new service area. Phone bill for 2 hours, 800 miles, 174 cell phone towers = $2586.71.

  21. OnoSideboard says:

    @yoink: Or wait, how about talking to the person next to you. People still do that, don’t they?

    Please, god, no. The only thing worse than being stuck next to someone shouting into their cell phone is being stuck next to someone who wants to make a new friend.

  22. All I care about is in-flight Internet. When are they going to implement that?

  23. orig_club_soda says:

    More like riding the prison bus than the city bus, these days…

    I am SO GLAD they made this decision. If only the nutcases in our society would attack cell phones as hysterically as they have hunt down and trounce smokers!

  24. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Thank goodness for small favors. It’s pretty sad that the only way to get away from people yakking incessantly on their cell-phones is to buy an airline ticket.

    You know, if they didn’t charge $50 a minute for using the Airphones (which have been in planes for years now) maybe people might actually use them. It would be nice if you could make a brief call to check on reservations and whatnot from the air if there was an urgent situation, but nobody would respect that, so it’s all or nothing.

    Now in-flight Internet, on the other hand, would be great.

  25. Mark Ashley says:

    @dwayne_dibbly: FYI, the Airfones got turned off a while back. Verizon wasn’t making money.

  26. Buran says:

    @tamar:

    They had. Then they removed it.

    I think someone must be going around, figuring out what would keep people happy on flights, and removing it.

    And then raising fares.

  27. ChiSoxFan says:

    I’m happy about this, but what is their reason now for not allowing iPods to be on until 10,000 feet for takeoff and landing? This is the stupidest rule I’ve ever seen. My iPod has NO RADIO OR TRANSMITTER.

  28. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    @Mark Ashley: Ahh..I didn’t know that. It does prove that telephone communications from a plane is technically feasible…but apparently not profitable.

    @ChiSoxFan:The whole business about having to turn off all electronic devices during takeoff and landing is to keep anything from interfering with navigational instruments. Even ordinary FM radios have internal local oscillators which could potentially radiate enough of a signal to interfere with radiobeacon receivers and/or transponders, and anything with a microprocessor has a tiny crystal oscillator and does put out certain levels of RF “hash.” Since there’s no way the crew can determine which devices are radiating RF energy, the FAA just put a blanket requirement on anything electronic and says it must be off.

    The chances of oscillator energy or a harmonic from same landing directly on a localizer frequency or interfering with other navaids is admittedly small…but why risk a crash over an iPod? At 10000 feet, there’s enough time to compensate for a bogus instrument reading, but not at say..100 feet above the runway.

  29. itchy feet says:

    Also, it’s to make sure passengers can hear any emergency announcements during the most hazardous parts of a flight – takeoff and landing.

  30. acambras says:

    @Mojosan:

    But it’s true. ;-)

  31. Baz says:

    Thank the Lord!