Two airlines announced this week that they will begin allowing in-flight cell phone use over the next year. Australia's Qantas and Ryanair, an Irish budget airline, will work with a Swiss company called OnAir to install equipment in their planes that will allow passengers to make calls and send text messages and e-mails. According to the British newspaper Guardian, OnAir is insisting its technology will not disrupt navigation or communications systems and won't pose a health hazard to passengers. Both airlines still need to secure regulatory approval, but they hope to complete a rollout by 2008. Qantas will start with its Boeing 767 aircraft, while Ryanair will implement the service into its entire fleet, which consists solely of Boeing 737s. Air France, TAP Air Portugal, and British carrier BMI are reportedly working with OnAir as well. Back in the United States, Verizon is starting to phase out its Airfone system, while JetBlue is researching adding Wi-Fi to its flights.
I have to admit my opinions are a bit divided on the idea of cell phones at 35,000 feet. While a small part of me thinks it would be nice to call family and friends to warn of delays, the idea of getting stuck in an economy-section middle seat between two chatterboxes is pretty horrific. While the cell phones themselves may not be a health hazard, I'd wager that anyone sitting around a blabbermouth may be a health hazard to the offending talker. (Remember when Robert Hayes blabbered on to his seatmates in Airplane?) Personally I don't need to hear someone bark order to their coworkers, dish to their friends, or talk lovey-dovey to their spouse. Texting is fine, but when loud talkers are annoying enough on the bus, I'm not too optimistic about the same scenario aloft. It's rumored that airlines will implement "quiet zones" in aircraft that allow cell phone use, but airline seating is complicated enough as it is. Moreover, with security being what it is these days, I don't care to stand behind 50 people who are waiting for cell phone searches. And it doesn't appear I'm alone in being apprehensive about zealous cell phone use while trapped for hours in a thin metal tube. MSNBC reported that when the FCC asked for public commentary on in-flight cell phone use, more than 8,000 people responded, with few having anything positive to say. Also, a poll by the National Consumer League and a flight attendants group revealed that only 21 percent of respondents said it was time to let the airborne yakking to begin.