No cell phones on flights please, say airline passengers

Nearly three-fourths of U.S. cell phone users recently surveyed don’t want to ride in airplanes with passengers talking on phones.

The results dovetail with what several airlines have apparently decided already as they prepare to roll out wireless in-flight services such as e-mail, text and instant messaging access from user devices. Those services, however, apparently will not include wireless talking.

Bruce Stewart, vice president of Connected Life Americas at Yahoo Inc., which commissioned the survey, said in a statement that the findings show that users want in-flight wireless connections. But they “don’t want to be forced to listen to the conversation of the passenger sitting next to them,” he said.

The online survey of 2,033 adults was conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. on behalf of Yahoo Mobile between April 29 and May 1. Of those who responded, 1,778 were cell phone owners who have flown on an airplane.

Nationwide, 74 per cent of respondents said cell phone use on airplanes should be restricted to silent features. In western parts of the U.S., that number increased to 83 per cent who wanted no talking.

As for silent features, 60 per cent said they would want to use them. Of that group, 38 per cent said they would use text messaging, 28 per cent said they would access e-mail, and 29 per cent would play games.

The survey also found that if voice capabilities are allowed in-flight, 69 per cent want a designated area of a plane for people to talk. Yahoo has already begun offering mobile applications for consumers, including Yahoo Go 3.0, which provides mail, news and finance content with access to third-party widgets.

Earlier this year, American Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. announced testing of systems that would offer passengers in-flight Wi-Fi access. Both said they would ban voice calls because of passenger concerns. (Listen to a Podcast about airline Wi-Fi access.)

Even in the case of Web services – both airlines would need Federal Aviation Administration approval before launching those.

Southwest said it would test satellite-delivered broadband Internet access on four aircraft this summer.

If the tests are successful and Southwest receives the FAA’s OK, passengers of the airline who have Wi-Fi enabled devices would be able to access the Internet to check e-mail and surf the Web.

The technology to be used aboard Southwest planes is from Row 44 Inc. in Westlake Village, Calif. In addition to data access, Row 44’s system is designed to support cell phone and voice-over-IP service.

“Southwest has not embraced voice calling” because of passengers’ concerns about cell phone calls made during flights, spokeswoman Brandy King said in an interview. “Voice is not a direction we’re taking.”

American Airlines said that it had installed a broadband Internet connection on a Boeing 767-200 plane and that it will install and test the technology on 15 such aircraft throughout the year. American uses 767-200s primarily for transcontinental flights.
American is using technology from Aircell LLC in Itasca, Ill.

Like Southwest, American plans to offer its passengers full data service but not cell phone or VoIP service.
Aircell provides an air-to-ground system that uses three lightweight antennas installed on the outside of the aircraft — one mounted on top of the plane and the other two on the bottom.

Wireless access points are distributed throughout the ceiling of the aircraft’s interior. Each American aircraft will be connected to a network of 92 cell towers in the continental U.S. using a 3-MHz signal, the airline said.

The satellite-delivered system from Row 44 that Southwest is testing requires an antenna atop the plane’s fuselage that communicates with satellite networks, according to Row 44’s Web site.

Last September, Aircell announced plans to equip Virgin America planes with Wi-Fi access systems this year. JetBlue Airways Corp., Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Qantas Airways Ltd. have also announced in-flight Wi-Fi in various forms.

Other airlines testing, or planning to launch in-flight Wi-Fi in various forms include Virgin America, JetBlue Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa and Qantas Airways.

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