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.