Gate-to-gate WiFi is next breakthrough in flying

Now that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ruled that airlines can allow passengers to use their electronic devices during take-off and landing, the next frontier in in-flight electronics is connecting those devices to the Internet, says Mary Kirby, founder of Runway Girl Network, a new media company focused on the aviation industry. 

FAA rules went into effect Nov. 1 that permit airlines, if they get some extra clearances, to allow passengers to keep their devices turned on from gate-to-gate, says Kirby. So far, Jet-Blue, Delta, US Airways, American and others are now permitting use of gadgets during all phases of flight. 

However, the gadgets aren't supposed to be connected to cellular networks in flight. "That's something a lot of passengers don't understand right now," says Kirby. The FAA expects passengers to disable the cellular on their phones by switching to airplane mode. "Most people don't know how to do that and flight attendants aren't checking. So a lot of people are transmitting on their phone on take off when they shouldn't be," she says.

Currently, technology limits wireless connectivity during takeoff and landing. Gogo offers inflight internet via an air-to-ground network, but it needs to reconfigure its cell towers to offer WiFi below 10,000 feet. "That's very costly, but it may do it," says Kirby.

What about talking on your cell phone during flights? "There are airlines all over the world, that permit that now," Kirby says. But the FAA isn't allowing it and has passed that question over to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to consider. "So right now," she says, "there is no voice in the US and I think a lot of passengers are very happy about that."