Cell phones on planes

The FCC is considering allowing cell phones on airplanes this week. Technically it has been difficult to use mobile phones on airplanes since the altitude means they are too far above base stations, and the speed is too fast to allow transition between base stations. Although passengers on low-flying aircraft have been able to make calls (as we all remember from 9/11), it’s been ill-advised due to interference with the plane’s navigation.

Now it seems that the technical barriers are coming down. Qualcomm is partnering with American Airlines to produce a ‘picocell’ which links to a satellite to provide local recepetion. Good news for the airlines which can charge for calls made. The satellite link also means calls can be made over oceans beyond the reach of land-based cell sites.

As a frequent flyer I wonder whether this is a good thing. I’m an avid communicator, but even I value the ‘downtime’ that a flight provides. Those who wish to work still can – I’ve written many a plan, proposal and press release en route, but those who which to just watch the movie, surely should be spared the ‘I’m on the plane’ exclamations from fellow passengers. Perhaps that’ll make sitting next to the screaming baby seem like a quiet respite.

Let’s hope the FCC sees sense. Can’t help thinking it’ll be a tough call though.