Connected in the Air: Win Some, Lose Some

Air-traveling web workers (which, I think, includes most of us) will perhaps recall that about two years ago the Federal Communications Commission announced that they were going to reconsider the rule requiring that cell phones be turned off when an aircraft leaves the runway. At the time, they invited comments on the technical merits of this proposal, with an emphasis on the effect of cell phones on aircraft navigation and safety.

If you’ve been losing sleep over the prospect of being trapped in a middle seat between two chattering salesman through an entire transcontinental flight, you can rest easy now: yesterday the FCC announced (PDF link) that they were terminating this reconsideration and that the existing rule will remain in place until some unspecified later time. Apparently, they didn’t get enough useful technical data, and the Federal Aviation Administration has their own study of the same problem underway anyhow.

On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that AirCell will be rigging airplanes as in-flight WiFi hotspots within the next 12 months. So even if you can’t call up your co-workers while you’re over Omaha, you should be able to fire up your laptop and catch them via instant messenger. Don’t think you’ll get around the cell phone ban with Skype, though; AirCell says they’ll be blocking VOIP services.

Which of these pieces of news is the win and which is the loss depends on how you feel about having a few peaceful hours out of touch while you’re traveling.

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