Should Wi-Fi for airplane passengers take off?

Within the travel industry, especially that of the airlines, the issue of Wi-Fi for customers has been an issue that has been pressing to be addressed.

Within the travel industry, especially that of the airlines, the issue of Wi-Fi for customers has been an issue that has been pressing to be addressed. As travellers become more connected to the internet through mobile phones, iPads, Kindle book devices and other gadgets, calls have been made for this Wi-Fi to be afforded to them in flight.

Two month safety assessment

Proposals to do so are being considered in the United States, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, though it is not exactly clear when the opportunity to use these devices in flight will be available. A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, the government body tasked for dealing with US aviation matters, said they recognised the importance for customers to use the devices in flight, but the group looking after proposals needed an extension. “At the group’s request, the FAA has granted a two-month extension to complete the additional worknecessary for the safety assessment,” the spokesperson said. “We will wait for the group to finishits work before we determine next steps.”

However, the FAA notes, mobile phones are not being considered for Wi-Fi usage on airplanes due to rules already in place by the Federal Communications Commission.

If the proposals are given approval, it would likely change the scope of the customer experience. However, plans would likely be released after the FAA gives an okay to the plans.

No response

Kettle reached out to four American carriers—American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines—for comment. Requests to Delta and to United were not returned, while a spokesperson for American declined to comment for this story. A spokesperson for Airlines for America, an industry advocacy organisation based in Washington, did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.

Katie McDonald, a spokeswoman for Southwest, said the airline was looking into the study with interest. “We believe that Safety of our Customers and Crew onboard our aircraft is the number one priority, and we know that the FAA is researching the use of electronic devices under 10,000 feet with diligence,” McDonald said. “Once their findings are released, we’ll meet with our work groups to determine what is best for both our Customers and Crew.”

The proposals in Washington come as British Airways announced a plan to relax its policy on mobile devices by allowing customers to turn on their mobile phones as soon as the aircraft is off the runway when landing before docking in the terminal, becoming the first airline in Europe to do so. According to a report from the BBC, these changes came into effect on 1st July. It’s not clear if other UK airlines are following suit.

Smart phones to make voice calls

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority said they had approved BA’s plan to do so, but noted generally that the CAA did not allow the usage of portable electronic devices during taxi, take-off and landing, but could be used in the cruise phase. Smart phones however could not be used to make voice calls, the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson noted that the CAA was observing the study of the FAA with interest, due to be released in the autumn.

So very soon, you may be able to use your portable electronic device in-flight in the US, allowing you to keep in touch with the world and plan ahead for after you land, whether it’s a very important meeting or a well-deserved holiday.

What do you think? Should portable electronic devices be used in flight? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo: Tim Fields