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Voice over WiFi or No Calling From The Sky-It's About Manners

USA Today had a well penned story yesterday about the pros and cons of WiFi calling from the air on the GoGo and Row44 service. The story highlights a call being made via client Truphone's service from the sky using their application on an iPhone. USA Today reports that the reaction was more positive in tone from the in-flight crew, but there's no question this is a topic that remains highly controversial.

The reason this was possible is how the GoGo service from Aircell watches for Skype packets, not others as much. Last year Joanna Stern (then of Laptop Magazine and now with Gizmodo) and I had a very well documented Phweet call to the sky that proved voice calls are possible. Over the past year I've heard of others also making calls, but despite the protests from some parts of the flying public and the claims by the airlines and Aircell, I've yet to hear of any "confrontations" in the air over a call being placed. What this really comes down to interpersonal behavior. Making a call on a red eye flight when other passengers near you are trying to sleep is a non starter, as it's just plain rude. But what about the crying baby or the non-stop chatter seated in the row behind you. You know the type. They're the ones who nervously talk like a blue streak to their companion or simply a seat mate whom they just met. That doesn't sound much different, and is just as annoying or more so than a short call via Truphone or Skype would be. Besides, the background noise from the plane makes it not much of a conversation from the flights I've been on.

Now, if the new airliners, ala the AirBus 380 could have a phone booth, just like they could have a baby changing station too, we'd all have privacy and a place to call from, but as for existing aircraft, unless the airlines set up a calling section, ala the smoking sections of days gone by, we won't be dialing much. On the new super airlines coming from Boeing and the Airbus 380 their "private compartments" are so protected that WiFi calling wouldn't disturb a soul, so in those situations calls should be permitted, once they get WiFi installed globally.

Bottom line--prohibiting calling out right would be a mistake. Teaching manners, and when to call, now there's something we all can live with.


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I agree have section in the back but expand it to all uses of WiFi and computers.

I get sick of the crap my kids and I can see on the screen next to us. Or if someone is doing business he gets bent out of shape if you look at it or even in that direction, like I'm a spy or somthing.

By the way calling from a plane has alredy been banned by the FAA and FCC.

Tony Palik

Agree completely with all your points, but given that I see more and more people trying to use their mobiles in flight, despite a widely-held perception that this is dangerous, what hope is there for such courtesy taking hold ?

As an example, on Monday night, I saw a passenger use her BB under a shawl in the row next to me. This was five minutes before landing !

Actually, Andy as bloody annoying as the chatterbox in the row behind you can be, studies have shown that humans are much more bothered by a conversation they can only hear one half of than they are of a two-way conversation.

Of course, sometimes with the chatterbox, their voice is loud and the other person, perhaps trying to not have so long a conversation, is quiet, to the same result.

Phone callers tend to also talk more loudly than they need to. I have proposed for years that phones, since they know quite well the ambient noise level and the abilities of their microphone to pull out your voice, regulate your volume by beeping in your ear when you start talking too loud. Soon you would be trained to talk at the lowest volume the phone can still make out in good fidelity.

Phone booths would be good but no doubt the security people would find some reason to hate them, as they forbid "congregating."

Am I missing something here? We have been able to make in-flight phone calls for what, 15 years? Granted, its been expensive, but I have used AirCall to re-arrange pickups when my flights have been delayed. Sure, more people may use their cell phone / WiFi/SIP systems, but most people don't like having their business conversations literally inches from a total stranger's ear so I don't think this is going to make a huge difference. Texting, Chat, Email, this will EXPLODE as more airlines have WiFi access, but I just dont think long-winded phone calls will become commonplace.

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