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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Should Airlines Let Passengers Make Calls Via Wi-Fi?

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Wi-Fi Onboard

Airlines are facing a challenge by banning cell phone calls on planes but allowing Wi-Fi, which allows some U.S. travelers to get around the no cell phone rule.

Credit: USA Today

Roger Flessing was on an American Airlines flight to Seattle recently when he began speaking with his son on his iPhone. He wasn't making a conventional cellphone call. He was using Truphone, which allows smartphones to use wireless, or Wi-Fi, connections to make calls. The technology is known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP. Flessing also booted his laptop and videoconferenced with his brother using Skype, another VoIP application.

How is this possible? It's a question that domestic airlines will have to answer with more clarity if they plan — as they say they do — to block phone calls during flight now that Wi-Fi is accessible on about 600 planes in the USA and passengers can talk online as Flessing did.

It's a controversial issue that's triggering fierce debate among travelers, airlines and regulators. Federal regulations prohibit in-flight cellphone use — but not Internet-based phone calls — lest they interfere with flight operations and create congestion in ground cell towers.

From USA Today
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