New System Allows Passengers To Talk, Text During Flights
November 10, 2013

New System Allows Passengers To Talk, Text During Flights

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

In an inspired bit of reportage, redOrbit’s own Enid Burns shared the fluid story surrounding the FAAs recent announcement to relax the restriction on Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) under 10,000 feet. Essentially, we all learned it would now be possible to use our e-readers, iPads and cameras from our departure gate to our arrival gate uninterrupted.

While both Delta Airlines and JetBlue were jockeying to be the first domestic carrier to provide this benefit to their customers, ultimately JetBlue came out on top when, at 4:15pm EST on November 1, the FAA granted the airline approval to immediately implement the new policy across its fleet. The passengers aboard flight 2302 from New York’s JFK to Buffalo were on a technologically historic voyage, being aboard the first ever flight allowing unfettered use of their PEDs.

Now it appears your mobile phone will not have to sit out the duration of your flight tucked in a dark pocket. This is because high altitude Wi-Fi provider Gogo has unveiled a new app that works with its onboard hotspot which will enable passengers to make voice calls and texts while soaring above the Earth at a cool 600 miles per hour.

The app, available for both iOS and Android phones, can be downloaded free of charge. Gogo is still ironing out the pricing details for the actual use of the app while in flight. The company currently has nine domestic airline partners as well as Japan Airlines. Each of these carriers would be able, if they wished, to price the service differently. One thing seems almost certain: this new capability will likely enjoy a different pricing model than Gogo’s daily, monthly and annual fee plans for its Wi-Fi packages.

Of course, the idea that you are able to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do something. We all dread the passenger that ignores the book in your hand to launch into a coast-to-coast conversation with you. Now we have the prospect of a planeload of one-sided conversations occurring in unison.

Airlines, which currently ban Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone calls, don’t seem to eager to relax that inflight policy.

In an interview aboard Gogo’s test jet, USAToday’s Edward C. Baig spoke with Gogo executive Brad Jaehn. “Currently in North America our nine airline partners have no interest in enabling voice calls because of the social stigma that it ultimately introduces.” On international flights, however, there does seem to be some demand for inflight calling.

According to Gogo’s own internal polling, the text feature is preferred by a decisive 79 percent of travelers who would like to have this available to them. "While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for," Gogo Chief Marketing Officer Ash El Difrawi said in a statement.

Unlike traditional VoIP, Gogo’s app doesn’t require the recipient of your phone call or text to also be using its app. Instead, your call or text is routed through Gogo’s onboard Wi-Fi before it is connected to a cellular network on the ground.

While Gogo’s Text & Talk service is already in use with some of its business aviation clients, the company hopes to have plans finalized with its domestic commercial aviation partners to offer the new texting service in the first quarter of 2014.