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September 30, 2021

VoIP calling is fair game on planes, but should it be?

What hypothetical, aside from ‘Should The Informant! be classified as a comedy?’, would warrant reactions like these?

-“NO ahhhhh!!!!!NO!!!!”

It would have to be a situation people feel pretty strongly against, right?

Well, those were reader comments from March when we reported WestJet and Air Canada were considering a life of their in-flight cell phone ban, possibly following in the steps of Euro airlines who now allow passengers to talk on mobile phones while the plane is in the air.

The consensus then? An emphatic, overwhelming, categorical NO! to cell phones on planes. “This is the one of the very few places where you can get peace and quiet from the endless intrusion into one’s own personal space,” wrote MSN.ca reader Cathy.

Yet whether or not Canadian airlines bring upon a lift of the applauded cell phone ban, news today shows the prohibition might now be a little trickier to keep in place after all.

USA Today passes along this pesky (or helpful, depending on how you look at it) piece of info that, cell phone service or not, passengers are still able to make calls from the plane’s cabin.

Now that Wi-Fi is available on many North American flights, users with smartphones are able to tap into VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services that let them place calls over the Internet.

(Under this method, programs like Skype would also be usable.)

Airlines don’t really know what to do yet because, well, there’s no rule against VoIP calling.

“It’s a controversial issue that’s triggering fierce debate among travelers airlines and regulators,” writes USA Today.

“Federal regulations prohibit in-flight cellphone use – but not Internet-based phone calls – lest they interfere with flight operations and create congestion in ground cell towers.”

So, what’s an airline to do? The chief concern for them is in-cabin noise level, USA Today reports. This is where the difference in cell phones and landlines comes into play.

While landlines have devices that amplify your own voice and replay it back through the earpiece, cell phones don’t, and that’s why people generally find themselves shouting into their mobile.

And that is, without much shock, going to piss a lot of people off.

Surprisingly, though, Americans are about split on the issue of in-flight cell phone use. A survey by the Department of Transportation Bureau found 45% thought they should be banned outright, but an impressive 40% said they should be allowed for use if they don’t pose a safety threat.

But, does that go for anyone here? Should, then – if a cell phone ban is going to stay – passengers be able to use VoIP calling over the plane’s Wi-Fi system?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...