When you could “kinda” use your phone on the plane

I still remember back in 2013 when I told you that the FAA was finally going to let you use your phone on the plane. For years after 2001, the government claimed that your cell phone would somehow interfere with the sensitive electronics on the plane which was, of course, nonsense. Most people kept their phones in their pockets. Some bothered to put them in airplane mode.

Why this was a big deal

Of course we love to be connected and being able to use e-book readers, laptops, phones and tablets on a plane are going to help that. It also helped carriers to sell Wi-Fi because cell towers aren’t designed to give you service on a plane at 50,000 feet.

That’s right, while the public certainly benefited, the real winner here was the airlines. They took out all those expensive-yet-inferior video screens from the seatbacks and replaced them with Wi-Fi that they charged you for. Sounds like a real win doesn’t it?

Best of all people really liked this move so no one complained. That’s a pretty rare thing to happen if you’re an airline.

But you still can’t make a phone call

One of the worries people had was that planes would get even louder and more annoying because people would make voice calls. That didn’t happen because in a rare sensible move the FCC didn’t allow it to happen. Voice transmissions are still banned and plane-based systems don’t allow VOIP systems like Skype or WhatsApp either.

Most folks are actually ok not making phone calls because they can still text and post on social networks. That’s how most people communicate now and realistically having no voice calls on planes also means no robocalls.

In the meantime

As far as I know there never has been an official apology. There hasn’t even been a statement that the government was wrong. They should apologize to all those suffering flight attendants who harangued customers to turn off those phones. Apologize for all of us who could have been reading e-books or watching our own media. For everyone who just wanted to feel connected… there should be some closure. The government was flat out wrong and it seems like such an obvious smokescreen. It’s still not clear why the government banned electronic devices on planes. I think it had something to do with post 9/11 fear. Realistically that rule didn’t stop anyone from doing anything they actually wanted to do. It was dumb and I’m glad it is gone.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.