The dangerous reason you still can’t make in-flight phone calls

Dozens of airplanes still have equipment subject to cellular phone interference. This is one of the reasons why iPhones and Androids have to be in airplane mode during flight. Fortunately, this danger will soon go away. The best-known cockpit system to have problems with cellular radios has to be replaced before the end of 2019.

Does that mean in-flight phone calls will become part of travel?

Cellular calls really cause a danger

Back in 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that cellphones could interfere with screens used by pilots flying Boeing 737 Next Generation and 777 airplanes. Boeing discovered the problem earlier in screens made by Honeywell.

Airlines weren’t ordered to immediately replace these screens. Instead, they were given five years. That grace period is almost over.

In the intervening time, pilots flying the affected planes reported more than a dozen instances of their cabin systems temporarily going blank. This could be the result of phones on board being operated improperly.

With the deadline up in November, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have completed this work, according to BNN Bloomberg. American Airlines and United Airlines each own a dozen or so planes that still need replacement displays.

In-flight voice calls remain illegal

That doesn’t mean the familiar warning from flight attendants that everyone must put their phone into airplane mode is going away.

Congress made in-flight voice calls illegal last fall. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 said: “The Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations to prohibit an individual on an aircraft from engaging in voice communications using a mobile communications device during a flight of that aircraft.” The flight crew and attendants are exempted.

Note that this doesn’t just include calls made via cell towers. In-air FaceTime and Skype calls are also illegal.

Much of the debate before passage of this law wasn’t about air safety. It was about the comfort of other passengers.

“Passengers chatting on their mobile devices in the small confines of an airplane could make flying even less comfortable,” noted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts). “Passengers should not have to suffer through the conversations of others, and flight crews should not be disrupted while performing their important safety and security duties.”