Texting and talking at 30,000 feet may be an option soon
A passenger sends a text while her plane is still on the ground. The FAA has relaxed in-flight use of electronic device. AP photo
By Philip LeBeau, CNBC
(CNBC) - Texting and talking on cellphones, long forbidden on U.S. airlines, will soon be an option for airlines and their passengers on domestic flights.
Gogo, a leading supplier of Wi-Fi connectivity for airlines, will soon offer a service that allows passengers to text and potentially make voice calls on their smartphones.
"There is strong demand for this service and the ability to text in flight," said Brad Jaehn, vice president of Gogo. "We think a lot of our users will want to have the option to text while in flight."
Jaehn admits that U.S. airlines are unlikely to offer the talk service, as many surveys have shown people do not not want to be on planes while those sitting by them make phone calls.
Gogo is pushing greater connectivity in flight just days after the Federal Aviation Administration eased rules about the use of personal electronic devices on commercial flights.
Texting, calling over Connecticut On Friday morning, CNBC went for two short flights over New York and Connecticut in the Gogo test plane to try out the new text and talk service.
Aboard the Bombardier Challenger corporate jet, I made numerous calls and sent several text messages using an iPhone. Once we climbed above 10,000 feet, the Gogo Text and Talk app was activated on an iPhone supplied by the company.
After that, texting and making phone calls was no different than if I was on the ground. Most of the calls I made were clear, though on a few the signal appeared to run into some interference. Overall, though, I was impressed with the service.
Gogo said it is still working with partner airlines to determine how it will price and offer the texting service.
Texting demand soaring Jaehn believes airline passengers will want the option to text on their phone when flying in the U.S., especially on longer flights.
"Almost 80 percent of our customers have expressed interest in this," he said.
Gogo users already have the ability to send, receive emails and be online. This takes connectivity one step further.
But will the new FAA rules prohibit airlines from allowing phone calls?
Technically, no. The new rules maintain the ban on calls, texting and emailing on personal devices. Gogo's service is through the planes hardware and software and only an option above 10,000 feet.
In addition, Jaehn says the resistance to people making phone calls on planes will keep U.S. domestic carriers from allowing the talk feature of the new Gogo service.
"However, there are some international markets where allowing phone calls could be an option," said Jaehn.