There are plenty of reasons to dislike the experience of commercial flying -- like poor service
from airlines, and delays from technical glitches
and systemic failures
. But a Computerworld columnist is all hot and bothered
because people can't get online or use cell phones while they're on planes. Frankly, the piece is so bizarre that it would make more sense as a badly written parody. It claims "Providing low-cost WiFi access in-flight is perfectly doable. In fact, an extremely good service was painstakingly rolled out, then later killed because of a lack of interest and support from the airlines and the government." This isn't strictly true: Boeing shut down its Connexion service
because it didn't attract very many users. People were reluctant to pay $30 per flight for WiFi; this made airlines hesitant to spend the $500,000 per plane to equip them with the system. Still, the writer claims that US airlines "failed everyone" -- despite evidence that the real demand for in-flight internet access is nowhere near as great
as many people assume.
But things take an even more bizarre turn when the writer turns his rant towards the government ban on cell phones on planes. He focuses on the FAA's ban, which is in place for safety reasons
, ignoring the FCC's ban, which is based on the contention that devices on planes could interfere with ground networks
. He says that the FAA ban, purportedly on safety grounds, merely exists so that planes' avionics and other equipment don't have to be shielded from interference. His demand is that the ban be lifted, and airlines forced to install shielding -- then that cell phones be banned again, but this time because they'd be annoying to many passengers. That seems rather pointless, but his claim that the current ban is helping terrorists makes it really hard to take the guy seriously: "And terrorists love the ban, because it's another potential way to crash airplanes. The cell phone ban as a substitute for shielding is clearly unacceptable. It's a trivial task for terrorists to look up public information about which phones cause the most interference, then bring dozens of them onboard and turn them on during crucial phases of flight, such as takeoff." Um, yeah. The fact remains that the real demand for in-flight internet service hasn't lived up to the expectations. Regardless of how many people say they'd use such services, there hasn't been enough actual use to sustain their operations. It remains expensive to equip planes with the necessary equipment to offer in-flight net access; given the way things are going at many US airlines, the majority of customers would probably rather see that money spent on things that would help get them and their luggage to their destination on time.