Will ‘no phone calls’ rule on planes come to an end?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Several commercial airlines have recently announced that they will permit passengers to make phone calls

Are phone calls on flights inevitable? One airline has just announced that it will allow passengers to make phone calls on board. As part of trials for a wifi network, passengers on Virgin Atlantic flights will be able to use their own mobile devices while on the ground. When they turn them on in the air, they will be connected to the internet to make calls. They will need to connect to wifi to use their phones to send texts and make calls at home. If the trial goes well, passengers on some Virgin Atlantic flights will be able to make calls or use wifi to send texts and make calls on board.

Phone calls ‘ridiculous’ A couple of years ago, several operators, including Virgin Atlantic, discussed the idea of allowing passengers to make calls on flights, even when their phone was switched off. The idea was met with scepticism by some, because of the danger of interference with other wireless networks. Possible interference was even higher in the case of GSM networks. However, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are still widely used onboard aircraft to make connections with personal electronic devices on the ground. So unless the “airplane mode” on devices is disabled and the phone is connected to the wifi network, the phone will run in a state of complete silence. It will be possible to use the internet to send or receive messages on an android phone or text message, even when the phone is not connected to wifi. These are not the same as sending and receiving emails or Facebook messages. They will not allow the user to send or receive phone calls or texts, but they will allow Skype calls or video calls. Virgin Atlantic says that because some of its routes are longer than that from London to New York, both phone calls and data services are essential. Virgin Atlantic is likely to allow phones on some flights, but no phones on long haul flights, such as London to New York or New York to London. Some airlines already allow calls on planes But calls may become more prevalent as more airlines introduce wifi, or wifi on board planes. By 2022, a dozen airlines will provide free wifi on large parts of their planes, in addition to wifi for business class passengers. However, British Airways, Lufthansa and some other airlines have taken a different approach, following the view that “in plane” or “plane mode” will operate well enough to ensure passenger safety. Virgin Atlantic has opted to support wifi, without phone calls. “I don’t see phones on planes as being reasonable,” says John Boyd, who is an independent airline consultant. “[They] are obviously a nuisance to people, they disturb others, it’s a distraction, it’s redundant in terms of entertainment. It’s hardly what we would have had when we were young, they’re really complete distractions.”

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