The new rule would require that airlines inform customers up front, before a ticket purchase is made, if they allow Wi-Fi phone calls onboard the plane.
It has been a longstanding policy not to allow cell phone use, with the airlines citing fears that such calls could interfere with the operation of airline equipment. But given the ubiquity of high-speed, low-latency wireless internet connections, VOIP calls are becoming increasingly commonplace.
Unfortunately, such calls can often be disruptive in the confined space of an airplane and have led to numerous customer complaints, resulting in some airlines outright banning them.
The new rules would seek to standardize the process, and if they are allowed, make customers aware of that upfront before they purchase their tickets. This is so that customers can make better decisions regarding their airline choice. They can either select one that allows them if that’s something they want or need, or avoid those airlines if peace and quiet is more important than an in-flight call.
It should be noted that when the idea for the rule was being discussed on the FCC’s website, some 96% of commenters came out against allowing any form of in-flight phone communication, via Wi-Fi or not. Passengers, pilots and support staff cited the likelihood of conflicts and disruptions, making for a less pleasant in-flight experience.
There’s no word yet on when, or if the new rule will take effect.
If it is adopted, it should also be noted that it would only apply to major carriers. Small operators and planes with a capacity of less than sixty would be unaffected in any case.
This is not likely to be a game changer for many, but it is something to be aware of in the months ahead.