My heart sank quicker than a descending A380 last week as I read the news that phone calls could be allowed on some flights as soon as this summer.
The European Commission has announced that it will allow airlines to provide full 5G technology on planes, which would enable phone calls mid-air and eradicate the need for devices to be put into flight mode. Post-Brexit, it’s unclear whether the new rules will extend to flights to and from the UK, or on UK carriers; but plans are definitely in motion for EU airlines and journeys.
As any frequent traveller knows, a flight is more than simply a way to get from A to B. Used well, it can be a bubble of calm, a moment to step out of the grind, a handful of hours in which to do exactly what you want instead of what others want you to do. And you have the perfect excuse: I’m sorry, I was offline. Unavoidable. Compulsory. Until now.
Of course, some people need to do a bit of work on a plane (including, occasionally, myself) – and I absolutely do not begrudge someone tapping away on a laptop to fill what they see as “dead” time on a long flight. But the ability to do this – enabled by the steady introduction of in-flight wifi by many airlines since 2006 – heralded the beginning of the end of the aeroplane as a peaceful, tech-free pod; a place where no clamouring colleague or family member on the ground can reach you. For me, flying without connectivity is a privilege, not a flaw.
Just as the usual drinking hours etiquette no longer applies the minute you step into an airport, the daily grind of work (and family, if you’re travelling solo) evaporates into thin air on a wifi-free flight. You become a big, swaddled baby, a Queen Bee being brought snacks and drinks while doing nothing more taxing than choosing between book, podcast or movie (yes even on Ryanair – get downloading on Netflix or Prime). This feeling of floating above it all without a care in the world – let alone a ringtone – is, surely, the mythical “cloud nine”.
And it’s not all about consuming culture and snacks. Things you miss when glued to a phone or laptop on your flight include but are not limited to: people watching, leg stretches in the aisle,…