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First Cellphone Use On Airplane Given OK 305

Posted by Zonk
from the last-bastion-of-quiet-removed dept.
s31523 writes "With over 1 billion cell phone users worldwide, and with so many business travelers, using the cell phone on the airplane has been a recent hot topic. Emirate airlines is announcing they will give the OK for cell phone use on their planes, making them the first airline to do so. The FCC and FAA still ban the use, but are working to determine safety implications, if any."
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First Cellphone Use On Airplane Given OK

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Tough to keep a signal at 500 kts and 36000 ft.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Tough to keep a signal at 500 kts and 36000 ft.

      Shouldn't be a problem, all the people hijacked on 9/11 were making calls with their cellphones, wasn't a problem for them.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Cauchy (61097)
        And the planes still managed to find their way to their destinations/target. Didn't seem to interfere with the navigation systems.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The people on the planes during the 9/11 atacks used Airfone, not their cellphones. Airfone was installed in thousands of airplanes since it's introduction in 1984. It's costly to use but somehow I don't think people really cared about cost at that time.

        How else did you think the Airfone operator got hold of the recordings we've all been able to hear? You think the mother of Mark Bingham had a recording device ready just in case her son's plane would be hijacked and afterwards gave the recordings to Airf
    • Tough to keep a signal at 500 kts and 36000 ft.

      These concerns are between the cell-phone users and their service-providers. Governments and airlines need not interfere. The etiquette (or lack thereof) of chatting for hours is similar.

      Airlines and the governments have been lying through their teethes to us on this and other matters [economist.com] for a long time... It is good thing, someone is finally breaking ranks:

      Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft's navigation systems.

  • To those confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindStalker (22827) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .reklatsdnim.> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:52PM (#17329448) Journal
    To those confused, the real problem with cell phone use on airplanes is that you are traveling so fast that you are switching towers once every minute or so. One person is fine, millions doing it (which is what would happen if legal) would be a HUGE strain on cell phone networks. Airlines are installing cellphone tower equipment into their plane to eliminate this problem.

    That is all class.

    • by fdrebin (846000) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:56PM (#17329500)
      The other problem will be ME going postal when the impolite person sitting next to me yaks and yaks for 5 hours straight on a flight.

      OK, I won't have a firearm, but I am large, strong, and will have become extremely psychotic.

      /F

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        To quote Yoda:
        "If yakking on his phone for 5 hours he is, yak at you for 5 hours he will not."

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by fdrebin (846000)
          To quote Yoda:

          "If yakking on his phone for 5 hours he is, yak at you for 5 hours he will not."

          To quote Frankie Vallie:

          "Silence Is Golden".

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Vengeance_au (318990)

        The other problem will be ME going postal when the impolite person sitting next to me yaks and yaks for 5 hours straight on a flight.

        Amen to that - I've done a number of bus trips up and down the east coast of Australia, and you always get some jackass who talk at top volume on their mobiles for hours. Worse is 2 or more people, competing to talk over their neighbour as they infer that what they hear is what the person on the end of the mobile hears. Absolutely frustrating, and thats just in a cabin with

        • you always get some jackass who talk at top volume on their mobiles for hours

          Anyone ever figured out why people talk louder on cellphones? Are they actually talking louder, or is it just a perception we have? Is it because on of their ears isn't available to hear back their loud talking so they compensate? A J. Seinfeld would say, "What's the deal?"

          • Re:To those confused (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Dun Malg (230075) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:01PM (#17332396) Homepage

            you always get some jackass who talk at top volume on their mobiles for hours

            Anyone ever figured out why people talk louder on cellphones? Are they actually talking louder, or is it just a perception we have? Is it because on of their ears isn't available to hear back their loud talking so they compensate? A J. Seinfeld would say, "What's the deal?"

            Regular phones have what is called "sidetone", which is your own voice coming out your earpiece. This is the natural result of all parties on a landline communicating on the same circuit. This feedback mechanism essentially allows you to monitor your own volume level by letting you hear what the other person is hearing. Cell phones, on the other hand, do not have sidetone. Your outgoing voice and the other party's incoming voice are on two separate channels. Since people are not "trained" on the use of cell phones, and are even somewhat programmed by landline usage to expect sidetone, they exercise little control over their volume levels. Since the automatic reaction to not hearing your own voice clearly in a sidetone system is to speak louder, the ones that really shout into their cells are mindless morons who are allowing their programmed behavior on landline phones to happen on their cells.

            Basically, it comes down to this: if they're speaking above a normal conversational tone on a cell, then they're unthinking fools who can't adjust to lack of sidetone because they're too stupid to realize it's not there. The world is full of unthinking fools.
      • going postal when the impolite person sitting next to me yaks and yaks for 5 hours straight

        Your only defense will be noise-cancelling earphones. It's not clear whether society has figured out all the rules of propriety when using a cell phone.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bassman59 (519820)

          going postal when the impolite person sitting next to me yaks and yaks for 5 hours straight

          Your only defense will be noise-cancelling earphones. It's not clear whether society has figured out all the rules of propriety when using a cell phone.

          Noise-canceling headphones only work with steady-state noise, such as the low drone of the aircraft as it flies. It can't do squat about someone's voice.

        • by XenoRyet (824514)
          Those headphones, while great for getting rid of the engine noise, sadly do nothing for speach. In fact, since they have cancled the background noise, it make the speach of the yaker all the more audible.
      • by DrCode (95839)
        The airline should provide a "Cone of Silence" for cellphone users.
    • by Shivetya (243324)
      and I was worried that the pilots would be yacking and not flying
    • is EM interference. Cellphones (especially the GSM ones) tend to be quite noisy. Don't believe me? Make a call near a radio.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)
      Airlines are installing cellphone tower equipment into their plane to eliminate this problem.

      Next problem: how to deal with a hundred foot tall cell tower sticking out of the top of the plane.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by vtcodger (957785)

      Good post, but may be a moot point with current cellphone technology.

      My frequently faulty memory tells me that somewhere -- probably here on slashdot -- in the last year or so there is a link to an article about a test of cell phones on aircraft in flight. At low altitude the cell phone worked fine. At higher altitudes -- above a few thousand feet -- connections were not so good.

      Here's a link to an article (not the one I had in mind) about some 2003 tests in the vicinity of London, Ontario using sever

  • by wbean (222522) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:53PM (#17329472)
    Sounds like good news for Bose; there are going to be a lot of people buying those noise-cancelling earphones.
    • by devilspgd (652955) * <slashdot@devilspgd.net> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:00PM (#17329602) Homepage
      Actually, they don't do a fantastic job of blocking voices. In my experience it's actually easier to hear conversations using noise canceling headphones then without, since the headphones cancel out the other background noise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)
      Nah, what you really want are a pair of canalphones. Personally, I have a pair of Shure's which were a godsend on my last flight, when I got to experience two cowboy-types behind me spending a full hour talking loud enough for half the cabin to hear them...
  • by Retired Replicant (668463) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:55PM (#17329486)
    I don't care if they determine that there is no need to ban cellphones because of interference with plane electronics -- I'd still rather the ban is kept anyway in order to keep flights from turning into cacophonous gab-fests. Flights are already uncomfortable and headache-inducing anyway...lets not make them noisy as well.
    • by devilspgd (652955) *
      While I don't disagree, I really look forward to being able to email or IM in-flight...
    • Too true. In New York City, the subway system for the most part is devoid of mobile phone coverage for obvious reasons. They had announced plans to wire the system for signal. Now the plans are pretty much stalemated in red tape, but that is sort of a sigh of relief to those of us who weren't looking forward to losing the one remaining public place one could be sure of not encountering the earpiece-wearing, phone-blabbering bluetooth zombies.
      • by Thansal (999464)
        Actualy it was only the stations that were going to be wired, and alot of those are already close enough to the surface (excluding stops like rosevelt island) that you can still get service.

        As for the subway being a safe haven from blathering idiots, I would say that there are pleanty of them with out celphones, including cell reception would not change much. Then again, I do live near the arse end of the 7 and probably am just used to people being on their cells anyway...
      • s/zombies/cybermen/
    • by autophile (640621)

      Flights are already uncomfortable and headache-inducing anyway...lets not make them noisy as well.

      What planet are you on? Here's a replay of my last flight:

      WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

      This is why I *always* bring earplugs. They help, mostly. Personally, I'd *much* rather listen to cellphone chatter than high-pitched informationless shrieking.

      --Rob

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by WormholeFiend (674934)
        I'd *much* rather listen to cellphone chatter than high-pitched informationless shrieking.

        How do you know those babies arent trying to communicate something about the bad airline food, the moran pushing/kicking on the back of the seat, someone's B.O./fart wafting through the cabin, etc.
  • by tulmad (25666) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:56PM (#17329512)
    Because if being crammed into coach wasn't bad enough, now you can be crammed into coach next to some asshat having a loud conversation on his phone for the entire flight. Sounds like a damn good time!
    • The real safety issue of airborne cellular use is having it rammed up your nostril by the disgruntled buy sitting next to you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jav27 (603992)
      I think the rates that Emirates will charge are about $2 per minute. not bad compared to Airphone rates, but still expensive enough to make most people cautious about long use. Most likely on top of the $2 per minute, the carrier will also bill you for international roaming.
  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:57PM (#17329524) Homepage Journal
    the vast majority of people drive while on the phone, I don't think I'd want to be on a plane with a pilot who's on his cel phone the whole time.

    Oh, you meant the passengers. I'll pass. I really don't need to have an entire flight filled with, "Guess where I'm at! Yeah, it's great! I can finally use my phone to call you from somewhere over [insert country/state/territory/ocean/whatever]. So how are things going? You get that urine problem taken care of."

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:07PM (#17329696) Journal
      You will be communicating with via a cell inside the plane. This leaves you with two choices:
      1. Pay a huge premium for the privilege of using the plane's cell, or
      2. Pay a huge premium for using the phone installed in your seat.
      Either way, it's likely to be so expensive that only real idiots would use it just to say "Hello! I'm on the plane!" I've flown quite a lot this year, and I don't think anyone used the in-seat phones on any flight I was on.
      • by mmkkbb (816035)
        Verizon Wireless customers don't get gouged too much. Calls only cost 69c a minute and you can still receive calls to your wireless number via the seatphone
      • by autophile (640621)

        Pay a huge premium for the privilege of using the plane's cell, or...

        What a scam! The airline could leave the local cell on after the plane is on the ground. Last flight I was on, at least a third of the passengers pulled out a cellphone to let their family/friends/corporate masters know that they were about to exit the aircraft. Think of the money the airline can make!

        --Rob

  • If this becomes common on US airlines, look for "plane rage" incidents to spike upwards.

    Can you imagine trying to endure a long flight seated next to one of those insecure, nonstop-talking, loudmouth cell-junkies?
    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:19PM (#17329870) Journal
      I doubt it. After being readied by your pleasant trip through security where you begged for your insulin back, the comfort of flying with your knees crushed into the back of the seat in front of you while a kid kicks the back of your seat will sooth your troubled soul. And if that isn't enough you can eat your bag of pretzles (only on select flights) on your tiny tray. Then you can join the 10 person long line to the toilet only to get to the front in time to be ordered by the flight attendant to get back to the your seat because they'll be landing in 1 hour.

      No, I see no passengers being bothered by this.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Stanistani (808333)
        Ah, but you never know which straw is the one that finally blows out the camel's back, do you?
        Let's hope at some point airlines and our security apparatus will try to improve the airline travel experience.

        Enabling cellphone use on airliners ain't it.
    • by zerus (108592)
      For as much as I've been flying in the past few years, I've come into contact with cases of "Parents won't make their kid shut up rage," "Baby won't stop crying rage," or my favorite "that damn kid behind you won't stop kicking your seat and if you say anything else the flight attendant is going to ground the airport and have you arrested rage." I can only imagine where the "Teenaged girl won't stop saying 'like oh my god she did not!' while on the phone with each of her moron friends rage" might take us.
  • by ShadowEFX (152354) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:59PM (#17329556)
    I hope one of the health and safety issues they look in to is the effect a cell phone has on a trachea when forcefully inserted by an enraged passenger tired of hearing the unfortunate cell user blather for five continuous hours...
  • by ifchairscouldtalk (1031944) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @04:59PM (#17329566)
    ... that I can play Snake on a plane now?
  • by bugnuts (94678) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:00PM (#17329578) Journal
    Let's ignore the issues of cellphones interfering with the flight controls. We'll ignore that search for a random cellphone on some oriental airline long ago, purported to be messing up the landing.

    From what I understand, cellphones work by associating themselves with "cells" of coverage. The closer they are, the less power they use, and so on. When the user moves cells, the network switches them over to the new cell.

    From the air, a cellphone will see many, many different cells as being equally good. It will also have to switch across cells much faster than normal. Without the plane itself acting as a roving cell tower for the occupants, it seems to me that this would cause a lot of problems. Not only will all the cellphones be transmitting at full power, but the network will potentially have to handle many many more switches cell to cell, and faster than normal. There's evidence of this from TFA when it said some upscale, long-haul airlines are installing equipment onboard that will allow for cell phone use.

    I'd love to hear from anyone in the business that could shed more light on these technical issues, and whether they are as big of a problem as I suspect if airlines were to just say "Sure! Use your phone!"
    • by pilkul (667659)
      Quite right. This is why airlines are installing cellphone "tower" equipment inside planes, which will neatly bypass all those issues.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:11PM (#17329746) Journal
      With a cell site in the plane, your phone will go into low power mode and just talk to it, not any of the towers on the ground (in theory, at least). It may see other towers, but won't try to switch to them, because they will be weaker signals than the one a few metres away.

      The cell in the plane will communicate with a base station somewhere, probably via LEO satellites, without interacting with the rest of the phone network. Once the call reaches the ground, it will be routed accordingly. Equipment for the second part (getting the calls to the ground) is already in many planes for the phones you will find built into seats. The only difference is that now you can pay a lot to use your own handset, instead of theirs.

      • by yali (209015)

        Equipment for the second part (getting the calls to the ground) is already in many planes for the phones you will find built into seats.

        Airlines generally charge a lot of money to use those phones, which raises an interesting possibility... Since the airlines own the onboard cell, could they tack on a hefty toll/surcharge (buck or two a minute) for using it? I'd actually favor that, because it would have the effect of preventing everybody from gabbing all flight long, while still opening an avenue for peop

  • We have all be subjected to the loud mouth jackass before. You know, the one that answers his/her phone in a restaurant and basically yells so that everyone can see/hear how important they are. Now the one save place we have from these people is going away.

    Perhaps we can convince the airlines to make the engine noise louder to drown them out.
  • by bananaendian (928499) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:15PM (#17329824) Homepage Journal

    This "Cellphones in Airplanes" type of article appears periodically in /. and every time I have to rise from my grave to correct the false speculation about cellphones interfering with avionics.

    Cellphones do not cause aircraft to crash and burn! There. Thank you.

    Here's my longer explanation for those interested: Avionics ABC [slashdot.org]

    Airlines offering the use of GSM cellphone services equip the cabin with a basestation similar to one used RF-secure buildings and underground facilities. It will handle all the calls within the cabin and connect to the phone network via satellite datalink. It's all compatible, safe and tested method that has been used for years now on business jets.

    • by shogarth (668598)
      Too true. Pilots even give permission to call out from time to time. Two years ago I had the good fortune to be on a flight benefiting from a 90 kt. tail wind. As we started to descend (20 minutes before touching down) the pilot came on the PA and suggested that we all break out our cell phones and let people know we were going to be about 45 minutes early. She surely wasn't worried about navigational interference...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by thpr (786837)
      Your prior post is interesting, detailed, and well-informed reading, but you fail to address an existing, published study [cmu.edu] stating that cellphone use on aircraft may be dangerous.
      • by bananaendian (928499) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @06:23PM (#17330840) Homepage Journal
        Your prior post is interesting, detailed, and well-informed reading, but you fail to address an existing, published study [cmu.edu] stating that cellphone use on aircraft may be dangerous.

        I'll address this again then.

        The study says there is an 'increased risk', 'higher than was previously thought'. What they did, was find that more often than thought before people's cellphones were on during critical parts of flights. They also found that laptop wifi and bluetooth were emitting RF. All they actually did was log the spectrum from these emissions on some flights. That is all their research found.

        Now, what they imply is that this is somehow more significantly dangerous then we previouly thought. My essay [slashdot.org] I think covered most of the things why this is not so dangerous.

        However I want to stress here the fact that any potential emissions from consumer RF-devices in the cabin will have a hard time competing with all the structures and shielding between the device and the antenna outside the aircraft or inside in the avionics bay. And no such device can dream of competing the awesome power of the spectrum from a fairly common natural sources, such as static build-up and lightning, under which such avionics have to perform on a daily basis.

        And if people are already leaving their cellphones and laptops on during flights by accident, where's the harm in allowing them to use them during flights in a controlled and tested environment. This might actually help people remember to turn them off more often during takeoffs and landings.

  • by LGV (68807) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:23PM (#17329930)
    ...only this time instead of smoking/non-smoking, we need cell phone and non-cell phone sections. Or better yet, talking and no talking sections.
  • ...is that very few people seem to understand exactly how they work well enough to be able to make decent judgments as to what constitutes a risk. First off we have the people who are afraid of ANY kind of electromagnetic radiation passing through the body. They worry that being hit with cell phone signals, WiFi and microwave range cordless phones will cause a variety of ills ranging from cancer to genetic mutations. The people who argue that these things can't happen don't have much to back them up eith
    • by et764 (837202)

      Next you have places like hospitals that demand that you turn your cell phone off because the signal between it and the cell tower may disrupt hospital equipment, pace makers and the like. There are some examples from the past that illustrate this but they were most probably from the era of analogue cell phones which had stronger signals and *may* have interfered with someone's pace maker or some hospital equipment at some point in some unusual circumstances. On the other side of the argument you have the people who are in love with their mobile devices and are livid that they have to turn them off in hospitals. You hear a lot of them complain about how the doctors happily use WiFi tablets and other microwave devices and yet they forbid cell phones.

      The last time I had a fever I had a digital thermometer sitting next to me on my bed, and I happened to have my cell phone sitting next to it. I noticed that just before I received a text message on my phone, the thermometer would basically freak out. It would make weird noises, light up, and the LCD segments would randomly darken and light up. It seems pretty easy to believe there could be some truth to cell phones interfering with medical equipment.

      I've also noticed that when I'm in my car and the s

  • by k2dbk (724898)
    The last bastion of semi-peace and quiet is gone.

    Assuming that your definition of peace and quiet includes high-volume white noise and even higher-volume crying babies.
  • by DreamingReal (216288) <dreamingreal AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:53PM (#17330422) Homepage
    "What do you get when you sit 120 people in seats designed for Erkel for 4 hours with 2 bathrooms, no smoking, available alcohol, and constant cell phone use?

    Aluminum-Tube Deathmatch at 36,000 Feet!

    Premiering this July on SPIKE TV!"

  • by nephridium (928664) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @05:57PM (#17330478)
    Then you will witness an endless flow of words that apparently just won't ebb down: "Yea, hello? Hello? Hello? Yea, can you hear me? Hello? Can you.. Yea. I can hear you. Yea, the reception is lousy. The reception. The RECEPTION. RECEPTION. Yea. Uh-huh. Yep. Yea, I'm in the airplane now. We can now make calls from the plane, ain't that great? Yea, we took off just a couple of minutes ago. We TOOK OFF. Yea, I'm actually calling you from the sky, I'm like god, except that I have a better ring tone [hysterical giggle]. Ah, nice we're getting dinner now [makes hand movement to stewardess (inquiring about his culinary preferences) indicating he's in an important conversation]. Yea. Yep. No, haven't eating for hours, it's great that they serve dinner now, I'm starving. How's the dog? [...]"

    A man was brutally killed yesterday aboard flight AA322. Police reports indicate there was no connection to a terrorist plot. According to an eye witness "he was just a really, really annoying guy with a cell phone."


  • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @06:00PM (#17330526) Homepage

    I don't care about being able to use my cellphone, but can I please use other electronics on the airplane?

    I'd love to listen to my iPod for the entirety of my flight, not just the half hour between reaching cruising altitude and beginning descent. Ideally I could put the earbuds in when I sit down and keep them while we taxi, fly, taxi, deboard, and collect our luggage. The flight attendents would treat me as a terrorist if I did that now.

  • Coming next summer: "Cellphones On A Plane!"
  • by eggboard (315140) * on Thursday December 21, 2006 @06:04PM (#17330600) Homepage
    Emirates said months ago that they were going to add this service, which uses an on-board picocell and relays calls very expensively very satellite. Should run at least US$2.50 per minute for calls. I wrote about this in The Economist back in September (not Emirates news): RyanAir will launch in-flight calling by the second half of 2007 on hundreds of its planes. That will be the first major deployment.
  • I tought cell phones worked just fine on a plane even before 9/11/2001 ... How could then folks from fligh 93 call down to inform people of what's going on? They did call, right?

    Or is it something that certain government wants us to belive?
    • by Bryansix (761547)
      Yes, they called. It was just illegal to do so except in an emergency situation which they were undoubtedly in.

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