Cell phone conversations on planes: Do they need to be that way?

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International air travelers must already deal with a number of perceived inconveniences.

Frequent fights over unpaved roads, crowded trains and the infamous traffic congestion in many cities around the world.

And yet, there is one more item — out of the clear blue sky and out of our own control –that tends to seem a downright nuisance.

And that’s the incessant chatter of anxious plane passengers glued to their mobile phones.

Are the cell phone calls on international flights inevitable?

CNN’s Correspondent Benjamin Hall reports.

There are plenty of airlines that run pretty ridiculous schedules for domestic flights. But for international flights, having hundreds of frustrated passengers trying to reach a Wi-Fi enabled device means there is usually a few minutes a month to really kill time with one’s phone.

That’s not the case for long-haul international flights. Here, phones are connected to Wi-Fi only on about a third of international flights, according to the International Air Transport Association . And on those that are allowed to connect, it usually means an additional 15 to 20 minutes of free time for passengers to basically check emails, play games and enjoy a light snack or something of the like — or shut up completely.

And while phones have access to Wi-Fi on many flights, passengers usually have to juggle their desire to access the internet with a flight schedule or how that will affect service.

Another problem is the ability to connect to Wi-Fi on international flights; there’s a geographic restriction that strangles countries like Hong Kong — which can connect to Wi-Fi and text messaging in most places around the world — from doing so.

Customers hoping to avoid the often rude fellow passengers who can’t tolerate the dreaded cell phone blurt are increasingly opting for pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi services.

But are these cell phone calls on international flights inevitable?

According to a recent story on The Long Way Round , a long-winded YouTube video by CNN’s aviation editor Richard Quest, very little is certain.

He mentions an airline pilot that swore and quoted the Bible when adding a little extra work to the flight’s schedule. The FAA, he says, is weary of getting sued from passengers who might be hurt or annoyed by overheard personal matters.

And yet, passengers have been able to talk on cell phones on planes for years, only to be met with silence and one’s indifference by airline staff. A few of the most notable non-filters include those aboard Continental’s Continental One (where the offer was for free!) and Southwest’s AirTran.

In recent years, an even larger, open-internet option has developed in Europe, The Economist wrote.

Some carriers actually put specific guidelines into place to allow cell phone calling on board, explaining, for example, that passengers won’t be able to contact friends or family over the airwaves.

A few European carriers, including Air France, put air-traffic control plans in place to direct individual flights to a safer airport after a call has been made.

Those rules may be different, but how do you think the argument about cell phone on international flights is playing out?

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