Free international cell calls on the way?

Written by By Staff Writer

By Olivia Smith, CNN

Cell phone calls are so great, they have made it onto most flights now, no matter whether or not you signed up for the free inflight WiFi.

While the wait is still lengthy between drops, travel specialists have suggested that the rumble of the airwaves is just a matter of time.

“The time is going to come, if nothing changes soon,” Ron Gula, co-founder of the World Travel Entrepreneur School, told CNN Travel in a recent interview.

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“No airline can resist the money, and no carrier would want to be in the position where it’s the only carrier charging a fee for calls.”

Gula’s instinct to see incoming calls as inevitable was reinforced when he flew on an airplane that had already started the process of testing its equipment for international telephony.

“It was disturbing,” he recalled. “It seems to me that if it is too late now, what is it going to be like when it’s too late?”

While a physical network is unlikely to be in place anytime soon, only a month or so out from the end of the Brexit exit and legal uncertainty, travel experts say that planes may also be called upon to answer network questions.

A global service

The group behind inflight calls will likely pass from the authorities to the airlines, suggests Leslie Morrill, a law professor at the University of Louisville and the founder of the law firm Morrill LLP.

“An individual company may sell access on an international basis, or an airline may ask the provider to provide service under their international flight contracts,” she told CNN Travel in an email.

What Morrill highlighted, however, was the potential for airlines to attempt to take advantage of the uncertainty over Brexit by notifying parliament that they will automatically be terminating their contracts, as they have done in the case of air passengers being taxed on duty free.

If they fail to comply with requirements that calls are charged no more than 30p per minute from the date of departure, then they will be liable for an extra £85. (US$110).

Gula believes it would make for good business sense for an airline to become one of the few to signal its intention to begin implementing calls, rather than all of them being forced to do so.

“It’s the airlines who have the most power in the situation because they are able to speak openly about their future and risk appetite with regulators and travelers, not to mention investors and stockholders,” he said.

“If an airline gets fined for failing to implement free calls during the period of UK withdrawal, then they are talking about losing all their cash flow for the next six months.”

Flight simulates you talking to someone

The questions and concerns over calling are compounded by the fact that most airlines are required to operate in accordance with certain security procedures.

For example, all major airlines are now required to operate the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight simulators at their airports, with trained security and emergency response teams, that replicate to the maximum extent possible the potential for terrorist attacks.

Additionally, military aircraft stationed above airports have dual role as airborne biometric scanners and, in many cases, can bring down aircraft.

The FAA requires all airlines to use either one or the other of these planes to conduct inter-flight calls. A few, including American Airlines, have invested in both simulators, while others, including Delta, are likely to continue investing in two simulators.

Whichever aircrafts you fly on, you can rest assured that the network is there, ready to provide your next cell phone call in less than an hour.

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