WiFi On Airplanes Coming. Does That Mean Airborne Skype?

from the we-can-hope dept

The New York Times says that several airlines are testing in-flight Internet services. JetBlue will apparently be offering free, but crippled service that includes only email and instant messaging. And Crunchgear suggests it will be even more crippled than that: only Yahoo! and BlackBerry-based mail and IM will be supported. For a lot of travelers (including me) that will be completely useless, although I guess something is better than nothing. At the opposite extreme, American (along with Alaska Air) is reportedly working on full-featured Internet access that will allow you to use the applications of your choice, but it will apparently cost around $10. The Times also notes the most intriguing possibility for this service: that Internet access may mean the ability to make VoIP-based phone calls. It's not clear that the Internet connection will be good enough to make phone calls practical initially, but as technology advances, it's only a matter of time before there's enough bandwidth to make calls practical.The Times calls this a "pitfall" and says that American won't permit Internet-based phone calls. But I have trouble imagining that ban sticking. Once it becomes technologically feasible to make calls, it will be extremely difficult for airlines to enforce a no-calls rule. There's no automated way to block phone calls, and stewardesses will have a difficult time policing the activities of dozens of passengers. The only way it would work is if the caller's neighbor was willing to rat him out, and I suspect that fellow passengers are a lot more opposed to the idea of cell phones on airplanes in the abstract than they would be about an actual cell phone caller in the seat next to them. After all, cell phone calls are commonplace on buses and trains, and while they're occasionally annoying, they're no more annoying than a loud real-life conversation or a crying baby. There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same. One possibility is that we'd see different airlines cater to different customers, with some airlines aggressively prohibiting airplane-based phone calls and others allowing them. My guess is that business travelers, who generate a disproportionate share of airline revenues, will find the ability to get work done on the airplane to be worth the minor inconvenience of occasionally having to listen to a neighbor's phone call, and so airlines that permit calls will be more profitable.

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Companies: american airlines, jetblue

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Comments on “WiFi On Airplanes Coming. Does That Mean Airborne Skype?”

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Dale says:

not the same

“There’s no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same.” – not quite

On a train, subway or bus, if the cell phone next to you really annoys you then you have the option of moving to another seat or area. Ever tried doing that on a plane?

As for no groundswell of support for banning cellphones, it was enough for Amtrak to introduce silent cars, which of course would probably be impractical for planes.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: not the same

> it was enough for Amtrak to introduce silent cars

Yep. And anyone who uses a phone on a silent car instantly incurs the wrath of the passengers around him. I’ve seen it happen. It’s like a zebra being pounced on by a pride of lions. So much for Tim Lee’s claim that “that fellow passengers are a lot more opposed to the idea of cell phones in the abstract than they would be about an actual cell phone caller in the seat next to them.”

poisonfist says:

phone calls are much more annoying than a loud con

I believe there was a study done about how someone on a phone is much more annoying than a actual conversation that may be even louder. It has something to do with our brain trying to guess what the other end is saying opposed to an actual conversation where you can hear both ends. I personally can agree to this and say that someone on a cell phone is a lot more annoying and hard to ignore than the loud couple sitting next to me.

ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

Re: phone calls are much more annoying than a loud

You’re referring to this study which concluded that “hearing only one side of a conversation makes it more noticeable and intrusive.” I would not only rat out any asshole sitting next to me in a plane having a conversation, I would quite likely disconnect his cord myself. What’s more, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t react (or at least want to react) in a similar manner.

tym says:

“There’s no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same.”

Well, in Japan, there is. A groundswell of support, that is. And they tell you so, explicitly, with signages in buses and trains.

(It’s ok to text and read your mail though.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: buses

I’ve ridden a really nice coach bus from NJ to NYC and back where the driver said “Keep you conversations to a minimum, if you have to talk be quiet about it. No cell phones. I don’t want people who are sleeping to be disturbed. I only want to hear newspapers.” And the bus passengers complied. It was probably one of the best commutes I’ve ever had in my life! This should become a standard for some flights, or at least sections of a plane.

David Mould (user link) says:

Could we be more advenurous than VoIP on a plane

In Connexion 2.0 I too hope that they don’t limit the usage to only email and IM. We always have to consider bandwidth but if the new rollout is as [un]popular as Connexion 1.0 then there should be plenty to go around. One day I hope to catch up some TV while flying between work locations. I mused on what could be possible in May 2006

zeroJJ says:

voip != compatible with satellite

voip is generally incompatible with satellite due to several factors

1. latency is the big killer.. the best round-trip latency on satellite is in the region of 660+ milliseconds.

2. packet loss – mobile satellite data will inevitably have this issue.. sat isp’s believe up to 5 percent packet loss is acceptable under some conditions

3. proxy – most satellite stuff is done using HEAVY transparent proxy and caching, making it extremely difficult to establish real/direct connections to the rest of the world.

Satellite data is ok for non-realtime, browsing, download, etc. but horrible for gaming, voice/videoconf, etc

Vincent Oberle (user link) says:

Re: Re: voip != compatible with satellite

Same with me. 2 years ago, I used Skype with the Lufthansa Connextion service, and the audio quality was all fine. Video was also working but quality was low.

This was 2 years ago, since then Skype has improved a lot and I believe it would work even better now.

The cool factor of making a video call from a plane might help with the acceptance issue: Other passengers might end up saying “wow” instead of fighting 🙂

Mark says:

Ever caught a 20+ hour flight

Re: “There’s no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same.”

Have you ever been on a 20+ hour train ride? No, well how about a 20+ hour plane ride – this is how long it takes to fly from the UK to Australia and the flight is bad enough without some twat chatting on the phone the whole time. Personally I would NOT fly with any airline that permitted mobile/voip services and I am sure there are plenty of people that will be the same.

Fortunately in London, their is no signal on most of the tube and there is now signs on buses to advise passengers not to put there music on speaker. Although doesn’t stop them does indicate that it annoys people (including myself).

Bill M (profile) says:


I, too am more concerned about bandwidth than about people talking (cell phone, Skype, or otherwise). I learned a long time ago “the only way to fly” is with one of those in-ear noise isolating headphones and an MP3 player. Between the roar of the engines, passenger interactions with stewardesses, and the always-mentioned crying babies, there is plenty of noise on planes already. Cell phones wouldn’t add much to that, and I would much rather Aunt Suzie talk to her sister in Atlanta than tell me all about her trip to DisneyLand. Unless of course she’s cute.

WiFi on airplanes would enable awesome ways to pass the time whether it’s catching up on TechDirt, tuning into Orb on my home PC to watch some television, or downloading email from work.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> Maybe I’m getting too old but I still can’t
> understand why people have this desperate need
> to be talking to somebody, (phone or email), 24/7.

Amen. You and me both.

People actually seem to be addicted to these things. I’ve watched people coming into movie theaters or various occasions and the first thing most of them do when they sit down is pull out their cell phones. Often they don’t even make calls or text. They just mindlessly scroll up and down through their contact list or bounce between the menus. It’s a bizarre phenomenon and actually mimics the psychological signs of addiction in many ways.

Personally, one of my favorite rituals every Friday is taking off the damn cell phone and throwing it in a drawer until Monday. For me it’s a relief when I can free myself from the damned thing.

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