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Monday, September 01, 2008

Inflight cellular and inbound calls

In general, I feel that the world could happily live without inflight cellular, but I accept that with current fuel prices, airlines need every revenue stream possible if they're not to go the way of Zoom. And I absolutely no problem with the principle of availability of inflight WiFi for PCs, or SMS for phones.

But the big potential problem I see with inflight cellular is not outbound calls/SMS/VoIP - it's the inbound traffic & associated ringtones.

2-hour shorthaul flights are pretty noisy anyway, as they're in daytime, with announcements and catering trolleys and kids going on holiday. And I'd certainly imagine that few people would be so socially-unaware as to initiate noisy conversations during the hours of "darkness" on a longhaul flight. But the issue has to be sleeping in a cabin with 200 other people who could well be *receiving* SMS or calls from people (or computers) in their home timezone, unaware they're midflight.

If you work out the stats it starts to be quite scary - on a full 747 you can have about 100 people within earshot, say 10 rows around you - so I'd guess that during a 5-hour "lights off" part of an overnight flight, you could easily get 30+ inbound events with associated ringtones.

One option might be to make the inflight system accept outbound traffic only, during "dark" hours. Or just instigate a rule that all phones/PCs have to be used with headphones only, and that any ringtone offenders get moved to a spare "sin bin" seat next to the lavatories.


Anonymous said...

I'd agree that ringtones/alerts are the most likely annoyance. Calls are likely to be short (especially in the economy section) due to cost of calls.

Internet access at a sensible price could be a very useful alternative. But its almost impossible to use a laptop in economy these days - you really need a small uMPC or smartphone/blackberry.

Perhaps a way to help boost airline revenues and limit the annoyance is to have a fixed penalty charge for any audible ringtone - say $20 per event.

Maybe it doubles for each successive event.

In case of transgression, the phone (not the user) gets put in the sound-proofed "sin-bin" and not returned until the flight lands and the fine is paid in full.

Edsard said...

KLM has mentioned in its press release that their system will be disabled during "dark hours".

At least this way, during long flights you will be able to rest peacefully (as far as one can aboard a flying tin can).

I doubt a penalty system, such as a sin bin, will work.
In fact, I see this is a cause for aggression. How will you work out the "who did it"? The offender might just deny its his ringtone.

A much easier way might be to have every user wanting to make a call send a text message - with their seat number. This way the incoming and outgoing calls can be registered. Offenders could then be blocked by the system.
Using the inflight entertainment system, you could actually alert the user of an incoming call or text message. While you are watching a video or something else, a text could appear on that display. This way, you can establish a simple rule that all phones must be put on silent.

The other advantage is that you can alocate a maximum number of minutes to a single user.
The entertainment system can also be used to show your minutes/costs/ etc...

Just a thought...


Dean Bubley said...

Hi Edsard

The "sin bin" / fine idea wasn't especially serious.

I quite like your idea of registering the device though, and also using the seatback display.



Dan (yes THAT Dan) said...

I worked on this a bit a while back for a certain operator and a potential customer airline, which gave me the opportunity to consider the user aspects as well. All I can say is the day it all gets launched (I am avoiding the urge to say it will take off), I will never ever fly Al Italia again.

Not that I do now anyway...

Practical solutions to the ring tone pollution aspects could be reversion to the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections - a quiet end and a noisy end of a plane. However, the potential of the non-smoking progression being applied in mobile phones offers an interesting image of people huddled outside of bars because ringtones have been banned from all public enclosed spaces.

But then if you listen to Dean on in-building coverage, there is a stealth ban coming on mobile phone usage indoors anyway...