When Will We Be Able to Use Our Phones on Planes?

Let’s look back at Alec Baldwin playing apologetic American Airlines Capt. Steve Rogers on Saturday Night Live one week after getting kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing Words With Friends:

Seth Myers: “But, Capt. Rogers, don’t phones interfere with the plane’s communication system?”

Baldwin chuckles in a Southern accent: “Oh, you don’t believe that, do you, Seth? Would you really get on an airplane that flew 30,000 feet in the air if you thought one Kindle switch could take it down?”

Alec Baldwin as Capt. Steve RogersSo... what’s the latest on no mobile devices on planes, anyway?

The FCC's Fight for Phones

A few weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), requesting that the FAA make certain mobile devices okay to use during flight, according to CNN. (The request didn’t include using phones as phones, however.)

The FCC and FAA are joining in a working group to investigate mobile devices on planes. The FCC wants more freedom with devices like tablets and e-readers, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Hill blog.

Not included in the investigation? In-flight calls on mobile phones.

The prevailing thought is that cellular signals interfere with the plane’s electronics. But according to Discovery, “those metallic birds are built airtight against foreign signals and operate on entirely different frequencies than cell phones.”

Using Phones on PlanesSo What’s Stopping Us?

It has to do with cell towers, not the planes, according to Discovery. In flight, a mobile phone will bounce signals off numerous towers as it flies overhead, “clogging up the networks on the ground, which is why the FCC—not the FAA—banned cell use on planes.”

For years, European and Middle Eastern travelers have been able to use their cell phones for texting, surfing the web and even making calls. But they have to turn them off before they reach our shores.

Foreign planes have their own built-in cell towers, which eliminate any potential problem with cell-tower traffic, as cell phones don’t have to “squawk at their highest power while searching for relay towers on the ground,” according to USA Today.

As a matter of fact, U.S. plane manufacturers are starting to modernize their planes’ communications options for passengers, although the laws are lagging behind.

What Does the Future Hold?

Boeing announced in September that, by 2014, the company would begin installing systems on 747-8s and 777s that “have the capability to provide in-flight use for cell phones, Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers, internet access using in-flight entertainment (IFE) and live television broadcasts.”

Now that the FCC and FAA are working together, and now that U.S. manufacturers are modernizing passenger communications in their fleets, we might actually get to use cell phones on planes in the not-too-distant future. In some capacity, anyway.

Of course, that’s a whole different conversation. Who wants to sit next to a teenager with a live cell phone on a long, boring flight?

“OMG, why would she say that?”

“OMG, someone on this flight smells.”

“OMG, this flight is sooooo long.”

Et cetera, et cetera.