You'll soon be able to make phone calls on flights in Europe

You’ll soon be able to make phone calls on flights in Europe

Along with properly stowing carry-on luggage, getting your seat upright, and securing your seatback tray, switching your phone to airplane mode is a common pre-takeoff requirement for airline passengers. But a new ruling in Europe could mean airplane mode will no longer be needed, allowing travelers to take phone calls from cruising altitude.

The European Commission recently announced that by June 30, 2023, Member States should make 5G connectivity available on aircraft in Europe.

Passengers on board EU flights will be able to use their mobile phones to their maximum capacity and functionality, just as with a 5G mobile network on the ground, the commission said, meaning the traveling public could use their phone to text, call and stream video in the air.

“The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to the possibilities offered by ultra-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” EU Internal Market Commissioner Theirry Breton said in a statement on the new 5G decision.

The latest mobile network, 5G, uses radio frequencies to carry information through the air, connecting machines and devices. It is currently unclear how exactly using 5G on planes will work and whether it will be available for free or at an additional cost and how it will work for international flights to and from the European Union.

The EU’s decision stands in stark contrast to how the United States approaches 5G connectivity in the sky. Earlier this year, airlines sent a letter to the White House and the FCC warning that rolling out new 5G service could compromise flight safety, leading to cancellations and route changes. Part of the problem is that the 5G used in the US is close to the same frequency used in airplanes to measure altitude, which is especially important in low visibility situations, making interference more likely. . In Europe, the frequencies are less closely related.

The US rule prohibiting cell phone use on airplanes was originally put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a US government agency that regulates domestic civil aviation, in 1991. It said personal devices could potentially interfere with the pilot’s navigation system – and the regulations have not been changed since. Airlines have long offered paid (or sometimes free) Wi-Fi on planes, which is possible thanks to Wi-Fi networks (which are often criticized as slow and spotty). And while in-flight Wi-Fi allows users to browse and text, the service is generally not strong or reliable enough for video or web calls and streaming videos, and without cellular service, the passengers cannot make or receive regular telephone calls during a flight.

Considering that the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 states that “the Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations prohibiting an individual on board an aircraft from engaging in voice communications”, it is unlikely that states United States is following suit, at least by allowing phone calls, even if it became possible to use 5G on planes inside the country.

“FCC regulations prohibit the use of cell phones on aircraft in flight,” the FAA told AFAR when asked about it. The agency did not elaborate on whether 5G and cellphone use will likely be permitted on airplanes in the United States and simply added that “the FAA will work closely with the FCC and other stakeholders to provide security if changes to this ban are proposed. ”

While the technology could making phone calls on planes a possibility, Henry H. Harteveldt, president of travel industry analyst firm Atmosphere Research Group, thinks dizzying phone calls are unlikely to be allowed.

“I believe flight attendant unions will vigorously oppose any decision to allow in-flight phone calls due to concerns that they could trigger air rage between passengers,” said Harteveldt.

Depending on the new rules that come with 5G on planes, it could lead to more flight attendants acting as in-flight security guards, at a time when the number of passengers acting out is on the rise. . Over the past two years, the FAA had to open investigations into 1,099 unruly passenger incidents in 2021 and 767 incidents between January 1 and November 1, 2022. Between 1995 and 2020, the average number of cases was 197 per year.

While the availability of the service certainly has its benefits, such as the ability to better coordinate airport pickups and the ability to respond to emergencies in the field, it could introduce new issues, such as loud talkers and the inability to to really disconnect. Time will tell if the pros outweigh the cons.

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