Rhein on Energy and Climate

Phoning from the Skies?

Viviane Reding, the Commissioner in charge of communications, has had another brilliant idea. She wants to enable all air passengers to use their cell-phones and e-mails from the skies and has persuaded the Commission to create an appropriate legal framework. She expects airlines to avail themselves of opening, as they will not want to run counter the “facts of modern life”.

On second thoughts this is not such a smart idea. Planes are one of the most crowded places on earth. Passengers have learnt to respect their seat neighbours’ private sphere. They are able to work, read novels, listen to music, see films, and use their computers without disturbing their neighbours. Planes have therefore always remained a place of relative tranquillity. With cell-phones entering the scene this era will come to an end. There will be constant telephone calls and conversations. That is the death bell to a quiet flying.

Humanity should learn not do everything that is technically possible. Man should preserve a few spaces where the telephone is not available – the theatre, the concert hall, the sleeping room. The Commission’s initiative is likely to force airlines to invest in the new telephone facilities. Competition will not leave them any other choice unless the big ones decided to form an anti-telephone cartel. Lufthansa has already declared that it does not intend to allow passengers telephoning on board.

As a compromise, airlines might allow the use of e-mails and SMS, but abstain from telephone use.

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  1. If you happen to switch on your mobile phone over Europe it actually works. The Economist magazine had an article about this about a year ago which says that the only thing that prevents airlines to let you use it is that they could not come up with a business model to extract most from it together with the mobile telephone companies. (Obviously the plane navigation system uses completely different frequencies so the GSM does not bother them, really). I kind of agree that telephones should be limited in the cabin, though, as some train operator companies have limited their use within the cabin. But to have the option to read e-mails on during flight would be excellent for business travelers.

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