Everyone who traveled by plane is accustomed to this familiar routine: after you board the plane and settle into your seat you are asked by the flight attendant to switch your portable electronic devices to airplane mode.
Did you know that switching to airplane mode is a federal requirement on U.S. domestic flights? That means that you must disable wireless transmission functions such as cellular voice and data.
But you may wonder why?
Here’s the answer: Cell phones are designed to send out signals strong enough to reach great distances. The radiofrequency emitted by these and other electronic devices could interfere with cell tower networks on the ground according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
But what if you forget?
Your cell phone or cellular-enabled tablet will keep attempting to make connections with every cell tower on the ground that the airplane passes if you don’t switch into airplane mode.
Trying to search for a signal, your cell phone will cause interference with airplane navigation and this process will also drain your phone’s battery.
“Cellular does not function as well with the speed and altitude of the plane and so needs an alternate off-aircraft connectivity solution to make it work,” says John Wade, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at Gogo, a technology company that provides in-flight connectivity and wireless entertainment services for Delta, United, and others.
Access to Wi-Fi during the flight
Nowadays, one can find in-flight Wi-Fi to almost all airlines, which is made possible because it’s satellite-based and not dependent on cellular tower connections. There is also one airline that offers WI-FI for free, and that is customer-favorite, JetBlue.
Through this network, you can surf online, read emails, check social media, or chat using Internet-based messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Although you can’t now text with SMS over cellular, you can use Wi-Fi.
How will we access Wi-FI during the flight in the future?
In-flight cellular service throughout the EU was allowed over a decade ago by the European Commission. On board voice calling, data and texting are allowed by several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic.
In order to provide this service, the plane should be equipped with its mobile base station,a network control unit that prevents onboard phone signals from reaching land-based networks and a satellite link to terrestrial phone networks.
There are no incidents so far, according to FCC. It’s available in the United States, too. Some of Gogo’s business aviation customers are already using it.
Are people interested in paying to call from the airplane?
It seems that people are not interested in paying for this service and some are even opposed to it, says Wade. Asian and Latin American markets seem to be more open to using this kind of service, as a 2016 Gogo Global Traveler study shows.
What about you? Are you willing to pay in order to use the Internet or voice calls from the airplane or are you the type of person that enjoys staying disconnected from technology during the flight?