July 21, 2024


Travel Finishes First

Airplane Mode Is Turning Off: The E.U. Orders 5G Availability Aboard Planes

Switching our phones to airplane mode when boarding a plane is as much a part of our pre-flight routine as passing through security and fastening our seatbelts. But member states of the EU have a new deadline to make 5G frequency bands available on planes: June 30, 2023.

The move to allow phone calls while in the air would mean that passengers no longer have cut themselves off from the outside world while flying. The European Commission ruled in December 2022 that carriers will be allowed to enable 5G technology on planes from next year, alongside some mobile data.

But is that a good thing? While making phone calls while in transit will undoubtedly be handy for some people—especially on longer flights—there’s something rather nice about being absent from the real world while in transit. Plus, will sitting next to someone making business calls make an already stressful travel experience even worse? We asked our well-traveled editors to weigh up the good, bad, and ugly parts of making calls while cruising above the clouds. 

Staying connected is a major plus

“I’ve always been a nervous flyer, and spend most of my time in the air anxiously running through a million different things that could go wrong during and after the flight. Having my phone will mean that I will be able to quell any irrational fears and silly questions that pop into my head mid-flight (‘What happens if the wing falls off?’, for example). Plus, I’ll be able to remain in contact with anyone I will be meeting at my destination, so I can plan timings and ongoing transport accordingly. I do appreciate the benefits that come from having a phone-free zone on flights, but I think the pros of remaining connected in a world that is becoming ever increasingly online will outweigh the cons.”—Olivia Morelli, senior digital writer, U.K.

“Don’t get me wrong… I am the first person to shoot a disapproving look if someone is being loud or generally annoying on a flight (plane seat kickers are in my room 101), so I’d like to make it clear that while I am in the ‘for’ camp, that comes with a caveat: headphones. If we can all just agree to be kind and respectful to each other and—more specifically—avoid loudspeakers at all costs, I think having access to 5G during a flight would be a wonderful thing. Goodbye to wasting time and money trying to connect to dodgy plane Wi-Fi, so long to last-minute panics about the email you forgot to send, and good riddance to realizing you didn’t download anything to watch on Netflix for your four-hour flight to Greece (long enough to render yourself bored beyond belief, not long enough to warrant in-flight entertainment). I get that the idea of people chatting loudly on their phones is a less-than-ideal addition to what can already be a stressful environment, so perhaps, after the safety demonstrations, airline staff could run through some ‘rules for being kind and considerate passengers’ to nip any bad phone etiquette in the bud.” Sarah Allard, digital editor, U.K.

Phone calls in the air will cause more bad behavior

“My first reaction to the news that people will soon be allowed to make phone calls while flying was to cringe. Unfortunately often, a handful of travelers forget all the manners and general courtesy they’d afford the people around them on firm ground—reclining seats, kicking chairs and acting as though they’re in their living room rather than surrounded by strangers. The ability to make phone calls on flights will be just another way our fellow passengers can encroach on our personal space and peace while flying. Sure, I can understand why it might be useful for some people to stay connected while flying—in case of emergency, to check in on family, or for an important work dilemma. But I foresee phones being used for all sorts of unimportant reasons when the change is allowed—and the last thing any of us need is to be sat next to a suited businessman having back-to-back calls that definitely could have been emails. Especially on shorter flights, are there really many problems that are so urgent they can’t wait until you land? In a world where we’re reachable 24/7, this change will take away one of the last acceptable reasons to go off-grid.’—Sarah James, deputy digital editor