On Monday, Dubai-based Emirates Airlines said it will now allow passengers on its A380 aircraft to use cell phones during flights.
However, the Middle Eastern airline's service, run through its Wifi provider OnAir, will be shut off 250 miles from the edge of the United States per the Federal Aviation Administration's continuing ban, according to All Things D.
The move is the latest technological advance from the luxury airline, which has allowed limited cell usage since 2008, according to USA Today. Emirates planes are already outfitted with WiFi and in-seat telephone, text message and email services.
In a statement obtained by All Things D, representative Patrick Brannelly said the company's development of the most up-to-date technology for its passengers has been a decades-long commitment.
“Beginning in 1993 with first passenger satellite phone service to last year with our A380 Wi-Fi system, Emirates has always taken the approach that providing the latest in inflight service and connectivity is a key part of our passengers’ journey,” Brannelly said.
While Emirate's announcement is noteworthy because of the airline's size and the number of its flights now outfitted with the service, the move is also indicative of a greater movement toward in-flight cell capability. USA Today reports that Virgin Atlantic passengers on select London to New York flights have been able to use their phones since May with the caveat that phones are turned off once American soil is sighted.
The FAA has relaxed some of its rules regarding the use of electronics and has taken steps toward allowing the use of personal electronic devices such as tablets, ereaders and music players during takeoffs and landings, according to the Associated Press.
And in August, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "With so many different types of devices available, we recognize that this is an issue of consumer interest," according to CNET.
But cell phones remain a "different animal" for the regulatory body, according to the FAA. And, according to USA Today, dozens of scientific reports have warned that radio signals from phones and other electronics can interfere with cockpit instruments in unpredictable ways.
Additionally, since 1991, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has banned the inflight use of 800 MHz cell phones because of potential interference with ground networks. Any airline that wished to allow cell phones on flights across the U.S. would first have to prove to the FAA that the devices would not interfere with the airplane's systems, and then have to to apply for an exemption to the FCC rule.
Then, of course, there's the annoyance factor.
Past polls have shown that American passengers don't want their seatmates to be able to talk through the flight, Fox News reports, but this attitude may be changing as smartphones, and the 24-hour accessibility they provide, become more and more ubiquitous.
In a survey conducted this summer by Fly.com, a fare-comparison site, two-thirds of travelers said they wanted to be able to talk on their phones.