The European Commission has dealt a blow to those who regard one of the virtues of air travel as being the haven it provides from being reached—or hearing other people being reached—on their mobile phone.
On Monday (7 April), Brussels announced measures to ensure that mobile phones will soon be able to be used aboard flights throughout European airspace.
The new rules—which national governments have to enforce within six months—will mean that licensing rights granted to a certain airline in one member state will be recognised throughout the 27-nation bloc.
The commission said it was acting on a general demand by EU air passengers—90 percent of whom carry their mobile phones on board—to have the facility.
Announcing the proposal, a spokesman said that continuous communication was a "fact of modern life", although he admitted that reactions within the spokespersons' service itself to IT commissioner Viviane Reding's proposals had been mixed—not least because the handy escape of being in the air will no longer function as an excuse for avoiding work-related questions.
Ms Reding, who already recently targeted the mobile phone industry by forcing regulators to cut roaming costs, said: "In-flight mobile phone services can be a very interesting new service—especially for those business travellers who need to be ready to communicate wherever they are, wherever they go."
At the moment, mobile phoning while flying is limited to a few travellers due to fears that it interferes with aircraft systems. Recently however, some airlines, such as Air France, have begun tests on the system.
Although the commission is establishing this regulatory "one-stop-shop" to enable the air mobile service, it says will not regulate price or the practical measures needed to ensure that both consumers who are delighted by the prospect and those who may be less so are catered for.
"If consumers receive shock phone bills, the service will not take-off. I also call on airlines and operators to create the right conditions aboard aircraft to ensure that those who want to use in-flight communication services do not disturb other passengers," said Ms Reding.
Airlines are already considering several models, such as offering mobile-free sections of the aeroplane, allowing only SMS and emails to be sent and received rather than conversations or requiring that mobile phones are put on silent mode.
Even if an airline decides to introduce the service, passengers will still have to switch their mobile phones off during take off and landing, and will only be able to have the stereotypical 'where-are-you conversation?' once the aircraft is above 3000 metres.
The commission said it would keep a close eye on prices, noting that they will "be a little more expensive than those on the ground", but it warned the industry that the roaming regulation—currently only dealing with terrestrial services—is coming up for review at the end of this year, suggesting that it will take a regulatory route for the air service as well.
Technically, the facility will mean that passengers will be linked to an on-board cellular network connected to the ground via satellite. Direct connections to mobile networks on the ground will not be possible.