back to article Mobile phones soon to be allowed on aircraft

Mobile phones will soon be heard on commercial aircraft, subject to regulatory approval. UK communications regulator Ofcom published a proposal (pdf) today that would license the right for passengers to make calls above an altitude of 3,000 metres. However, Ofcom points out that its remit is limited to the regulation of …


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  1. Robert Ramsay

    so what's changed since 2003?

    in 2003, a study showed that mobile phones could cause errors of up to 5 degrees in navigational equipment - have phones really magically changed that much in that time? I'm sure the planes' navigational equipment hasn't...

  2. Anonymous Coward


    There are enough chav's and cocks who annoy the world with mobile phones and spotty teenagers who use the phone like it provides oxygen. Trains, cars, buses, shopping centres. Every other situation is bearable because you can get away.

    In planes you are pinned in and unable to move. For prolonged periods of time.

    I hate flying but I hate the over use of mobile phones even more.

    This will only lead to air rage against said annoying gobsh*te who talks about shares or footy or how such a person is dating such a body.

    And just imaging the roaming charges.

  3. Paul

    Oh, great.

    Yeah that's just what we need.

    Because air travel isn't hellishly annoying enough already with all the waiting in line, sitting around in uncomfortable seats for hours with feck all to do because they expect you to show up about 3 hours before check-in, being harassed by over-paranoid yet entirely ineffective "security" measures, then jammed into a space which makes cattle trucks and Gitmo cells look positively humane, and fed (if you're lucky) on something resembling reheated leftovers from last Friday's work canteen meal while being slowly deafened by the engine drone.

    No, what we REALLY need is to give all the selfish pillocks you find on a typical airliner the option to annoy us all with their "oh look how original I am" ringtones (that only a million or so other people have too), REALLY LOUD CONVERSATIONS and incessant bloody texting like they already do just about everywhere else!

  4. Xpositor
    Thumb Down

    And so it comes to pass

    The last haven from the annoying ring-tones, inane [one-sided] conversations, and the "I'm on the train" (or plane, in this case) type calls will dissappear. I was rather hoping that 'flight-safe' mode would remain compulsory.

  5. Andy S

    i'm assuming that

    the plane having its own network means they can charge you whatever they like for the calls and then slap a roaming charge on top of it.

  6. Andy Worth
    Black Helicopters

    Hmm just wondering

    Has there EVER been a proven case of a mobile phone causing danger on a flight? Or was it in fact some assumption made by airlines because people didn't understand the technology?

  7. Philip Marshall

    Please, no mobiles!

    Unless, we want to see more air-rage, please tell OFCOM to naff off over allowing mobiles on planes. I have enough trouble with mobiles on buses and trains, let alone planes.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing new under the sun.... the wheel, etc., etc.

    The investment had already been made when airplanes used to have phones in the backs of seats.

    Now, more huge investment for another system with wacky regulatory and licensing rules -- and with restricted usage -- over 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet) to name one.

    What a waste. Maybe if the airlines hadn't charged stupid prices with the original phone systems people would have used them.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    diddle-ding-ding, diddle-ding-ding, diddle-ding-ding-dinggggg

    Wonderful news... not. So now on a plane, just as in any other place, we will soon be subjected to the full repertoire of inane ringtones, loud but almost universally banal conversations (or one side of them at least), and a dawn chorus of message beeps when crossing borders. There will be no escape from this apart from the toilets - assuming that they're not already occupied. And, to make it even worse, it won't even be possible to grab the phone from a really bad offender's hand and throw it out of the window.

    Still, at least there is the potential for even more embarrassing disclosures and leaked secrets due to overheard airborne conversations!

  10. Jeremy


    di-de-duh-duh, di-de-duh-duh, di-de-duh, duh-duh


    Dear God, please no......

  11. Ferry Boat

    Liverpool John Moores University

    Mobile phone jammers are not allowed in the UK. But what about in international airspace? I may have your solution to annoyance. Warning:- flooding the mobile phone band with noise might not be good for the aeroplane.

    I'm just so glad I always travel by, err..., boat.

  12. Barry
    Thumb Up

    What about hospitals, and on the tube?

    Still can't use them in hospitals - well, not officially.

    During a recent trip to A&E I mentioned that my family didn't know I was hurt. I said I obviously (knackered leg) couldn't get outside to use my mobile - and was told that I could use my mobile for a short period.

    And, weren't there plans to put micro-cell's on the underground platforms? To allow calls to be made from there (thankfully, not in a tunnel). Though, after the London bombings there were concerns about mobiles being used as potential triggering devices. I take it that the airlines are happy that couldn't be the case?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @so what's changed ...

    There is a difference - with mobiles trying to communicate with cells on the ground, the power is relatively high, and the timing advance (cf distance from basestation) changes rapidly. This system will run the mobile and the cell at very low signal levels and fixed timing.

    I still think it's a horrible idea.

  14. Starace

    Re:diddle-ding-ding, diddle-ding-ding, etc....

    "it won't even be possible to grab the phone from a really bad offender's hand and throw it out of the window"

    No problem. The alternatives of a) just breaking the thing or b) helping the owner to store the offending item in a convenient orifice are still available.

    Given the restricted space available between the rows of seats it won't be easy shoving the phone up their arse, but given provocation I'd be willing to give it a go.

    Or if you know the right people on the aircraft, just take the really effective option and get them to pull the breaker for the onboard phone system for the duration of the flight.

  15. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Bad news but... soon as the punters will get the first telephone bill they will learn to switch off their phone at the sight of an airplane, not even waiting for the stewardess's announcement.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I assume this is a plot by Greenpeace to close down air travel?

    They've finally found a way of way of making veal-class travel even more unpleasant. If inedible food, random security scares and the 'welcome to America' cavity search ideology hadn't driven people off planes, what could?

    Mobile phones.


  17. Craig Cockburn

    Pile of pants

    This is just so much rubbish. If phones were in fact dangerous to planes they would take them off people. If having phones roam to multiple masts was a problem then the thousands of people leaving their phone on would cause a problem for people living under the flight path. Yet for about 25% of people who leave their phone on (or put it on silent rather than actually turn it off) this has never caused a problem to a plane, despite thousands of phones a day being left switched on whilst on a plane. In any case, even if the phone is off then the signal from the mast is still penetrating the cabin during take off and landing. Why is this not a problem?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get over it!!

    I've never read such a load of reactionary and narrow-minded garbage as that in most of these posts from the snotty, superior, anti-phone brigade.

    Well guess what guys. The world is not flat after all. Some guy invented the wheel and it changes all our lives. It's called change and progression - GET OVER IT!

    Don't you see the irony in a bunch of IT nerds complaining about people using mobile phones!

  19. Ross Fleming

    Yup, cost a fortune

    Presumably they're saying above 3000m because that's when you've got next to no chance of reaching a base station, therefore they'll be effectively putting in a mini base station on a plane - hello roaming charges at the flight operator's discretion.

    How does this really differ from the airphones that are already on board a fair amount of planes anyway?

    Chances are it'll be cancelled as soon as an air steward overhears a passenger complaining "this is costing me a bomb". "Did you say bomb sir?"

  20. Rich Harding

    Well, what I know is...

    ...for the benefit of Andy Worth and others asking, yes, there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence of phones causing interesting effects on aircraft equipment, much of it to do with pilots' own phones accidentally left on (or deliberately switched on on the ground). I myself fly much smaller aircraft and will quite happily attest that if I leave my phone on and it rings my variometer goes absolutely ballistic. Yes, if there's a cell on the plane itself the output will be much smaller; but there will be lots of phones. I'm not actually particularly interested in being part of the public trial of the theory that they won't cause incidents!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good comments/Ignorant comments

    I'm glad to see some people paying attention and researching before opening their flytraps.

    When you fly, after a certain altitude, you just dont have a signal. However, if you do, you are causing most of the phones on the ground (UTMS, CDMA (if applicable) to broadcast at MUCH higher power levels either draining your battery faster, causing network disruption and inteference. It's not common, but it does happen.

    Also, phones on GSM use special timings to save battery power, but when you are travelling fast (a plane), the timings are increased. So instead of 1.5 seconds, you get something around 200ms, causing a lot more chatter from that cell phone. Most phone wont cause issues, but what's stopping someone with a homebrew cellphone with modified radio stack from going crazy? Planes use weird frequencies for numerous things, including FM, nothing is stopping a cell phone from causing interetesting results.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    @Get over it!!

    Evidently you've never been subjected to other people with mobile phones. What beats me is how you're managing to get internet service from Tierra del bloody Fuego.

    Sure, we have the technology to make this possible, but does the average person have the consideration for others to make it bearable? Considering how few people remember to shower before boarding a flight, I would give it a resounding NO.

    Frankly, I'm glad that my usual airline simply bans mobile phones from being on. It's got a flightsafe mode, you say? Tough. It's still got to stay OFF. You don't get to subject the however many other people on the plane to it.

    Flying is bad enough as it is, without allowing people who can't bear to be parted from their phones to shout over the engine noise about things that could perfectly well wait; the world hasn't stopped turning yet from this set being cut off when flying. They call it cattle class, but if you treated cattle like that you'd be prosecuted, and quite rightly so...

  23. Steve

    Interesting times ahead

    It'll be interesting to see how many people boycott the airlines that allow this. I will. As noted above, 12 hours in a sardine tin is bad enough without having to put up with some clown shouting into his personal hands free mike.

    I also wonder how they'll police the "not below 3km altitude" rule, and how they'll stop people on overland flights just using the network search menu to select a ground-based network instead of the microcell, to avoid the roaming extortion?

  24. Tom Kelsall
    Black Helicopters

    Cells on the plane

    If you had a "Cell" on the plane, the transmitting aerial would be OUTSIDE the plane and therefore largely isolated from the cabling et al which could otherwise be a problem for control systems. The cabin would probably contain a small pickup aerial to "collect" the transmissions from the 'phones.

    However, I'm with most of the rest of you - a plane is the last bastion of freedom from the shouty brigade and I really REALLY don't want to lose that. Of course there would be HUGE fees to pay for use of the damn things anyway so hopefully chaVmeister wouldn't be able to make use of it.

  25. Shad

    RE: Get over it

    Let me guess Ed... you're one of those people who like to talk on the phone while driving or in public places where your conversation is actually disruptive to the people around you.

    What ever happened to etiquette? Manners? The cell phone and the automobile have destroyed both in the quest for personal independence.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Tierra del Fuego?

    Sorry, Anonymous Coward, but that quip went over my head?

    As you probably realise, I'm new on here, but I've been reading all the posts, and yours in particular - could hardly miss them, the number of times you feel the urge to impart your wisdom!

    Look old chap, I know it's YOUR forum and all that, but if I may be so bold - don't you get bloody well fed up with being right all the time?

  27. Jeremy

    Re: Get over it!!

    Last year, I took an overnight, transatlantic flight on an uncomfortable, overcrowded vomit comet. Within a few feet of me, I had:

    * A bunch of scouser kids on their way back from a holiday at Disney. They'd clearly been eating sugary food non-stop since they arrived because they didn't shut up or sleep. At all. For 8 hours. Their parents didn't care because they were too busy fondling each other to notice.

    * A baby who found it hilariously funny to a take horrendously smelly crap just as we pushed back, so ensuring it wouldn't be changed for at least an hour. It cried.

    * An old dear who thought the attendant call button was for her personal entertainment.

    * Someone who argued about the availability of duty-free.

    * An irate person who got the wrong special meal.

    So it was, as you can tell, an enormously enjoyable and relaxing flight. Obviously, they only way it could have been better would be to allow people to piss off the rest of the passengers with things like "lets listen to *all* my 200 ringtones one after the other to choose a new one" and my personal favourite, "lets call mum and ask her about her haemorrhoids"

    No, Thanks.

  28. Gower


    I don't care about the safety implications... I'm just thinking about the sheer misery my already incredibly miserable long haul flights will be, sat next to a jumbo pig chattering away on a cell phone for 23.5 hrs(AUS-UK)... argh....! as some mentioned above its going to instigate air rage...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disruptive - me!?

    "Let me guess Ed... you're one of those people who like to talk on the phone while driving or in public places where your conversation is actually disruptive to the people around you.

    What ever happened to etiquette? Manners? "

    Well, Shad, having made those comments about me, you may well ask whatever happened to etiquette and manners. You don't know anything about me, but feel obliged to pigeonhole me and accuse me of disruptive behaviour!

    Well, in my defence and just for the record, I have to tell you that I make sure that my conversations aren't disruptive to people around me. I use my mobile in a public place only when it is necessary, for a specific purpose, and in order to achieve a desired result. Not to gossip. I talk quietly and my calls are usually very brief. A mobile phone is one of the most valuable tools I have for running my business. Simple as that. There are millions just like me.

    Jeez - there is so much intolerance on here. Don't any of you antis have mobile phones? I'm sure that many of you do. I would have more respect for the anti-brigade if they were honestly able to say that they do not own, and would never own, a mobile. What rankles is this attitude of superiority and "holier than thou" that comes across in some of the comments. This attitude that other people's mobile conversations are inconsequential and frivolous. Anyway, what if they are? It's a free country - or was. Many people talk or laugh very loudly when in company with friends in public places, and that to me is much more disruptive than someone having a phone conversation.

    The only good reason I can see for not allowing mobiles to be used on planes is the possibility, as eloquently pointed out by others here, of disruption to navigation systems etc. I am not qualified to make comments about that, so will have to bow to others superior knowledge.

    If a person is a loudmouth, or indulges in loutish behaviour, in a car, on a plane or in a public place, he will be a loudmouth and a lout with or without a mobile phone!

    Apologies for the length of this comment - just needed to get it off my chest!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so whats wrong with the current on board phones?

    While I already hate chatterboxes on an already unbearable flight (i fly 13-15 hours usually), and this is going to make it worst, what is wrong with the current on board phones?

    I'm sure it would be cheaper for the airlines to just provide a call forward service option at check-in to get calls routed to your on-board phone/seat, and make calls as usuall without having your phone on....if its really THAT important to get calls.


  31. dblack

    Another source of entertainment

    I do not have, nor have I ever had cell phone. However, indiscreet/loudmouthed strangers share the most astounding and intimate secrets with me just because I happen to sit near them. I used to be irritated by this boorish/inconsiderate behaviour - now I try to imagine what the other person is saying - it's quite entertaining. Soon, I fear that I will interject myself into the conversation ...."Excuse me. don't forget the extra point and a quarter that the agents gets" or "You're right about not using the sales figures from last year." At Schiphol a couple of weeks ago a pilot sat across from me and phoned his home base. It was unsettling to learn that he would 'never' fly on RyanAIr. It was interesting to learn that he was a senior examiner in the UK but that he still had to take two days of 737 refresher training. I felt his pain as he tried to convince the other person to book him into the Hilton rather than the 'usual' grotty hotel. If they are stupid enough to allow in-flight cell phone calls and your seatmate engages in indiscreet phone behaviour during a flight, all bets are off as far as protection of personal privacy - the expectation has to be that everyone in the immediate vicinity is fully engaged in the conversation.

  32. Kieron McCann

    Hey Ed

    Yes yes Ed, you may be terribly polite on the phone. That's why when you end up sitting next to me on a plane talking on it I'll do you the courtesy of allowing you to choose which of your orifices I insert it in.

  33. Andy
    Paris Hilton

    Not quite the end of the world as we know it - but I still feel fine

    To quote the West Wing (ep 1x01)


    You can’t use your phone until we land, sir.


    We’re flying in a Lockheed eagle series L-1011. It came off the line 20 months ago and carries a Sim-5 Transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?"

    Let them use phones. I somehow doubt that they'd be allowing it if they weren't reasonably sure of its safety and I also doubt that the first test flight will involve a few hundred paying passengers being given free reign to mob away. And what happens if you interfere with a plane's navigation system anyway? You end up in Bermuda instead of Paris? Nice thought but no.

    I won't be using mine unless I absolutely have to but then I take the same attitude with them on the ground. But I learnt a long time ago that avoiding what I consider to be 'anti-social behaviour' is about as easy as avoiding stories about Paris Hilton. People are people - from scumbags to saints - and you either learn to live with them or you go insane.

  34. pctechxp

    A whole new kind of terrorism

    Step forward every fundamentalist psychopathic whacko, if this nonsense gets approved they'll be able to blow up planes without being on them!

    Am sure Bin Laden, Sadr and every other sick individual of similar ilk is listerally pissing themselves with glee at the thought.

    And unless the hold is going to be protected by some kind of material to stop the phone signal, it alo raises the possibility of them putting a phone activated bomb in the cargo.

    Think I'll take the train or boat from now on.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Kieron - ROFPML

    Having read earlier comments on this forum, and seen the intellectual level of the debate, I should have known better and stayed off it.

    However, I have now found several other sites where the subject is being debated rationally, logically, and with some intellectual integrity. So that's where I will be.

    Bye all. Look forward to the chance of meeting up with you some time Kieron McCann. It will be, er, interesting.

  36. Steve Barnett
    Dead Vulture

    It'll be like bonfire night and 911 all rolled into one

    Bus bombs, train bombs, truck bombs, bombs in hotel lobbies

    All set off by mobile phones.

    Need I say more?!

    I think I will walk !

  37. The Other Steve
    Thumb Down

    No, no, A thousand time no, I'd rather DIE than say yes.

    It's bad enough on the train, and I travel first class. Someone should tell these fuckheads that they give you a phone so you don't *have* to shout. That's like, the whole point.

    On more than one occasion I've communicated with other passengers my displeasure at their activities, especially after I paid extra to specifically to sit up front and avoid gobby little tosspots [1], usually to the resounding approval of the other passengers.

    Allow this to happen on a plane, and someone is going to die.

    [1] Well, that and to have a table to put the wine glasses on, obviously.

  38. DrunkenMessiah


    Ed, I'm sure most people (like me) who are against the proliferation of mobiles in the skies do actually own and enjoy using their phones.

    What we object to is the disgraceful way that some choose to do it. I.E. shouting, laughing loudly, speaking wile others are sleeping, messing with tones, having a text conversation without silencing the phone and my personal favourite... playing full songs on speaker with their friend's singing along as I regularly get from (mostly) young girls on the bus and train.

    Next year I am going to Jamiaca for my honeymoon (9 hr flight) and I really would not want these things spoiling my mood/precious sleep.

    Is it really that much to ask that you turn your phone off for a few hours so others aren't annoyed by it? It's only common courtesy.

  39. Lee Turner

    Hello I'm on a...

    Seriously, why the fuck would you need to phone anyone on a plane?

  40. Alistair

    Its not about aircraft safety, its about the cellular network

    Really I think its about time we had a public education programme about modern technology such as computers and cell phones. Remember the Dilbert Principle!

    There is no particular danger posed to aircraft by cellular phones. May cause some interference because aircraft electrical busses carry minimum shielding for weight saving reasons. But this could all be engineered out if necessary.

    The problem is that the cellular networks are not designed to cope with airborne mobiles. At 10k metres your cellphone could be trying to roam across cells up to 200 miles away (mixing measurements in true El Reg style here) because of the propagation of radio waves in free space according to inverse-square law as compared with ground-based comms (inverse-fourth law). This uses up a lot of network resources, interferes with and generally causes loads of problems both for the operators and other mobile users.

    This proposal for on-board picocells could be made to work at a price. The idea is the mobiles all connect with the local picocell at low power, and do not try to connect to and thereby interfere with the ground-based network.

  41. Daniel B.


    "And what happens if you interfere with a plane's navigation system anyway?"

    Hm... do you know what "flying with instruments" means?? Its when you have ZERO visibility, and have to rely on your instruments to fly. Not knowing how to use instruments is what made JFK Jr. crash into the sea.

    Interfering with instruments on zero visibility conditions, during final approach would be pretty educational.

    If you've driven under fog conditions, surely you've had to slow down to 20mph in some occasions, even less. Airplanes have to go at 130+mph speeds *at a minimum*, even if they can't see. So instruments are very, very important to keep them flying and not crash into something.

    That said, I wonder why not use the airphones instead? There is an "incoming call" service if you need incoming calls. The only reason they aren't used much is the extortionate rates on those.

  42. Anonymous Coward


    This is a very good thing! That way, when there are snakes on the plane, we can call Samuel L. Jackson.

    Oh hell, I don't even care WHICH coat I get, just get me outta here!

  43. P. Kelsay


    How eaxctly are the big bad terrorists getting the actual explosives into the plane itself, that all they lack is a cellphone trigger?

  44. Anonymous Coward


    If it's possible to have terrorists train as pilots, just how difficult do you think baggage handler school is? Terrorists very rarely work alone. One throws a bomb in the hold, another sets it off in the air

  45. Steve


    A question to those worried about people then being able to use bombs triggered by mobiles. Do you really think that anyone willing to put a few kg of semtex in a 747 cargo hold will be held back by current legislation forbidding them from putting an operating phone on an aircraft?

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