Sunday, May 13, 2012

VOIP calls just as off-limits during flights as cell phone service

No cell phones are to be used on planes, but what if you are using a VOIP service, which is leveraging your flight's wi-fi? That should be OK, right? You might think so, but apparently the answer is no.

Certainly, it's even worse news when you are informed of that fact when you are the founder and CEO of a company that has created a smartphone app that allows users to make calls using VOIP. No, we're not talking about Skype, we're talking about Viber, and the incident ended with Talmon Marco being escorted off a Delta Air Lines jet earlier this week.

Marco, 39, was en route from New Orleans to New York. He decided to use the airline's in-flight wi-fi along with (what else) his company's own app, in order to call an associate. As he did so, Marco was approached by a flight attendant and told he had to turn off his phone. While he ended the call immediately, he then explained that his phone was in fact switched to flight mode, and that the call was made using VOIP and wi-fi.

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Since wi-fi is provided on the flight, that should be OK, right? Again, wrong.

The flight attendant gave Marco the wrong information, saying that it was a flight safety issue, which is of course, incorrect as he was using wi-fi. However, the FAA does note that airlines block the use of in-flight calling using VOIP applications not because of an FAA safety requirement, but because the carriers are “simply responding to the overwhelming majority of their customers, who prefer silent communications to the public nature of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) calls.”

In other words, folks on a flight don't want to be assailed by a fellow passenger speaking loudly on a cell phone. As many have noted - and complained about - before, many people speak louder on a cell phone than a wired phone because of the lack of sidetone.

Eventually, back on Marco's flight, it was said by another flight attendant that the actual issues was with the Terms of Service of use of the in-flight wi-fi, provided by Gogo. However, as Marco continued to discuss the matter, they eventually told him he was being difficult.

Marco added, “They handed me a brochure by Delta that says you are being disobedient or something like that and when I took a picture of this, they said, 'OK, now we’re going to call the cops on you.'” In fact, they did just that.

When the plane landed at LaGuardia, two Port Authority police officers escorted Marco off the plane, but when he explained his side of the story, the officers released him without further incident.

Marco wants an apology from Delta. Meanwhile, Delta, in a statement, reiterated that it was Gogo's ToS that were at issue and clarified what could and could not be used on their flights.

“Delta fully supports a ban on cell phone voice transmissions. We are not, however, opponents of in-flight data transmissions (i.e. text and e-mail messages) provided they do not interfere with flight deck navigational equipment."

Perhaps next time, Marco will use instant message (chat).  Viber works on Android, iOS, Windows Phone and even BlackBerry.

However, there's no end to in-flight scofflaws, you can bet. A recent poll of more than 1,200 people found nearly a quarter of them, or 24 percent, admitted that they don’t always comply when asked to turn off their electronic devices  prior to take off.

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