Monday, January 23, 2006

Cell phone usage in the skies...

This information may be a little dated, but it is still an issue known to many of us who fly the friendly skies...

Cell phone usage is currently prohibited on all domestic commercial flights. Most think it's solely because cellular phone signals would interfere with cockpit communication with air traffic control on the ground. However, as reported by CNN about a year ago, some believe that a better incentive to keep cell phones off in the skies is that widespread cell phone usage in airplanes would wreak havoc with cell phone communication on the ground. For these reasons, the FCC and FAA are slowly considering the proposal with hesitations.

It doesn't take too much imagination to realize why this may be so. When one is on the ground talking on their cell phone in a stationary position (as they should be, as I highly discourage cell phone usage while driving a car), that person is, from what I understand, using one or a very few local cellular towers to broadcast the cell signal. From the air, traveling at speeds of over 500 miles per hour, and at an altitude exceeding 30,000 feet, using the same cell phone would simultaneously use multiple signal towers on the ground. Therefore, widespread cell phone usage could clog up the networks on the ground, simply because those in the air are hogging the signals being broadcast from the towers.

Now, this has never been tested empirically, so I am skeptical as to whether this would be an issue or not. However, I myself am happy to turn my phone off on the plane, knowing that I won't be bothering anyone else sitting nearby. After all, do I want to face the likely possibility that my flight will be accompanied by a cocky businessman across the aisle, screaming into his phone over the background noise of the air circulation and his own ringing ears from the pressure changes?

Although recent cell phone designs have been shown not to interfere greatly with air traffic control communication in the cockpit, I for one am a strong proponent of maintaining the ban on cell phone usage in the air.

And, as I saw on an episode of A&E's "Airline" recently, you will be thrown off the plane if you refuse to turn off your cell phone.


Blogger Ben said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Can you imagine a five hour flight surrounded by loud talkers divulging way too much about their private lives? I get grumpy enough listening to businessmen gab on their phones while waiting to board. What's wrong with being incommunicado for a few hours?

8:18 PM  
Blogger Phlip said...

I think the annoyance factor has as much to do with the continuation of the ban as the tower-usage problem. The airlines know that the last thing we need is more air rage, which is exactly what would happen if cell phone chatters were free to do their thang.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Marcel Marchon said...

I once heard somebody say that using a cell phone on an airplane doing something like 400mph is physically impossible, because the speed would distort the frequency. Not sure if that's true and if that guy really knew what he was talking about ...

4:27 PM  

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