Passengers on flights within the European Union (EU) will soon be allowed to use mobile phones without enabling aeroplane mode.
The European Commission has ruled that airlines can provide 5G technology onboard in addition to allowing mobile data.
This should mean passengers are exempt from using flight mode on phones, although details on how this will work have not been released.
The changes will mean travellers can make phone calls, text and stream videos.
Why do passengers have to enable aeroplane mode on flights?
Air passengers in the EU are currently requested to turn off mobile phones or enable flight mode for the whole journey.
This is because historically there was little understanding of how mobile data might affect flight communications, Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the UK Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC.
“There was a concern they could interfere with automatic flight control systems,” he said. “What has been found with experience is the risk of interference is very small.”
In the US, concerns have been raised over how 5G frequencies might hamper flight systems and even cause alterations to altitude measurements.
However, this is not a problem in the UK and EU, Whittingham confirmed.
“There is much less prospect of interference,” he said. “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the US.”
“The travelling public wants 5G,” Whittingham added. “The regulators will open up that possibility, but there will be steps that will be taken to ensure that whatever they do is safe.”
When will airline passengers be able to make phone calls in the EU?
The approval from the European Commission means airlines will soon allow passengers to use mobile phone data on board flights.
Member states have been given until June 30, 2023, to provide 5G technology on aircraft.
This means air passengers will be able to make phone calls, access apps and stream music and videos on flights next year.
“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies,” Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said in a statement.
“The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” he said.
Airlines will be able to provide high speed internet with the 5G frequencies, which would allow passengers to download a film in a couple of minutes.
Do flight passengers want to use mobile phones on board?
Although the plan has been hailed as a step forward for plane travel, not everyone is happy.
“Given the way people behave with their phones on all other public transport this is depressing news,” one user wrote on Twitter.
“Yet another reason to hate flying. Imagine being stuck in a seat next to somebody on their phone for hours,” said another.
“There isn’t even a plan for a quiet carriage!“
Some travellers also enjoy having a break from their phones.
“I love that on a plane (and I don’t fly very often) it is totally no contact […] It’s a total switch off,” said one Twitter commenter.
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