Picture being squished into an airplane cabin with dozens of strangers. Then add into that delightful mix the prospect that everyone starts talking on their phones. Loudly.
That soon could become reality, according to industry experts.
“Most airlines have the ability to permit devices to make voice calls but choose not to,” Don Buchman, vice president and general manager of commercial aviation for the communication company Vissat, said, according to CNN. “When the industry is ready, it probably will be as simple as flipping a switch.”
Paul Forgue, a private-sector consultant who manages performance improvement, said voice calls could be handy for business travelers.
“For those work emergencies when you really need to have contact with someone, it would be fantastic to know you could pick up your phone and do that from the plane,” he said.
“In those situations where you need to talk to a colleague about something you can’t articulate via text or email, it’d be perfect — provided people don’t take advantage,” Forgue said.
He said airlines could divide planes into sections — one to allow calls and one where they are banned.
Demand on the part of the traveling public is the key to changing the rules, said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry analysis firm.
“No matter how you look at it, allowing cellphone calls on planes is controversial,” he said. “These are precisely the kinds of issues airlines tend to avoid addressing unless they must.”
So far, fewer than 5 percent of travelers want calls allowed on domestic flights.
“I don’t want to be forced to overhear someone else’s conversation if it’s avoidable. It’s bad enough when you find yourself in that situation at a coffee shop or in a hotel lobby. In an airplane at cruising altitude, in a situation where you can’t do anything or go anywhere to escape, it would be horrendous,” Harteveldt said.
If traveler demand rises to the level where airlines want to allow in-flight calls on domestic flights, one group remains in the way — flight attendants.
Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants, said the union is against allowing calls.
“We are strongly against voice calls on planes,” she told CNN.
Cassandra Michele Brown, a flight attendant with Frontier Airlines, said that even more than passenger arguments, her concern is safety.
“At the end of the day, our job is to evacuate an aircraft in 90 seconds or less,” Brown said.
“If you’re a passenger on my flight, no matter how good you might be at multitasking, you’re not going to be able to follow my step-by-step instructions to evacuate if you’re focusing on your phone,” she said
Seth Miller, an industry analyst, said that despite concerns in the past that cellphones interfered with aircraft instrumentation, there is nothing to worry about now.
“The reality is that new technology and new equipment have all but eliminated this problem,” he said. “There’s no longer any technical reason for people to not use cell phones on planes.”
However, there are regulatory issues. The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration would need to amend existing rules blocking voice calls aboard planes.
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