You’ll Soon Be Able to Make Phone Calls on Europe Flights

Along with properly stowing carry-on luggage, reclining your seat, and securing your backseat tray table, switching your phone to airplane mode is among the common pre-takeoff requirements for airline passengers. But a new regulation in Europe could mean that flight mode will no longer be needed, allowing travelers to take phone calls from cruising altitude.

The European Commission recently announced that by June 30, 2023, member states would have to provide 5G connectivity on planes within Europe.

Passengers on board flights in the EU will be able to use their mobile phones to the extent of their capacity and features, just like with a 5G mobile network on the ground, the Commission said – meaning the traveling public would there to use their phones to text, call, and stream video over the air.

“The sky is no longer the limit for the possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” said Theirry Breton, EU commissioner for the internal market, in a statement about the new 5G decision.

The latest mobile network, 5G, uses radio frequencies to carry information through the air, connecting machines and devices. It is currently unclear how exactly the use of 5G will work on planes and whether it will be available for free or at an additional cost and how it will work for international flights in and out of the European Union.

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The EU’s decision stands in stark contrast to how the United States is approaching 5G connectivity in the skies. Earlier this year, airlines sent a letter to the White House and the FCC warning that the rollout of the new 5G service could jeopardize flight safety, leading to cancellations and rerouting. Part of the problem is that the 5G used in the United States is close to the same frequency used on airplanes to measure altitude, which is especially important in low-visibility situations, leading to a higher chance of interference. In Europe, the frequencies are less related.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US government agency that regulates domestic civil aviation, first introduced in 1991 that personal devices could interfere with a pilot’s navigation system—and the regulation has not been changed since. Airlines have long offered Wi-Fi for a fee (or sometimes free) on planes, which is possible through Wi-Fi networks (often criticized as slow and spotty networks). And while inflight Wi-Fi allows users to browse and text, the service isn’t usually strong or reliable enough for video calls or web and video streaming, and without cell service, passengers can’t make regular phone calls or receive during flight.

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Considering the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 states that “the Secretary of Transportation has regulations to prohibit an individual on an aircraft from engaging in voice communications” it is unlikely that the US will do the same, at least by allowing phone calls, even if it came. 5G can be used on planes within the country.

“FCC regulations prohibit the use of cellular telephones on airborne aircraft,” the FAA told AFAR, when asked about the matter. The agency did not elaborate on whether 5G and cell phone use on aircraft would be allowed stateside and simply said that “the FAA would work closely with the FCC and other stakeholders to ensure safety should any changes to the ban be made.” recommend that. “

Although the technology could phone calls can be made on airplanes, according to Henry H. Harteveldt, president of the travel industry analysis company, Atmosphere Research Group, sky-high phone calls are unlikely to be allowed.

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“I believe the flight attendant unions will strongly oppose any move to allow in-flight phone calls because of concerns about the risk of sparking airstrikes between passengers,” says Harteveldt.

Depending on the new rules attached to the 5G on planes, more flight attendants may be acting as flight security guards, at a time when the number of passengers acting out has increased. In the past two years, the FAA had to initiate investigations into 1,099 irregular passenger incidents in 2021 and 767 incidents between January 1 and November 1, 2022. Between 1995 and 2020, the average number of cases was 197 cases per year.

While there are certainly advantages to having a service available, such as being able to better coordinate airport pickups and the ability to respond to emergencies on the ground, it can introduce new problems, such as loud speakers and the inability to really disconnect. Time will tell if the pros outweigh the cons.


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