Flying typically brings to mind thoughts of exotic destinations, thrilling new memories and everything else summed into one word — “vacation.” However, what happens when passengers remain plugged in even when they are supposed to be “getting away?” As many airlines make progress towards universalizing free in-flight Wi-Fi, I fear the day that my travels among the clouds are filled with the chattering of cell phone conversations, notification bells and disruptive messages from down below. When I fly, I use the time for a variety of activities, some of which are productive in the form of work or focused reading, and some of which are relaxing like napping or listening to music. But what happens when passengers cannot do any of those things without disruption in such a confined space?
My main argument against free, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi stems from the aforementioned idea that flights should be a place of peace and limited disruption. Of course, there will always be the crying infant, kids watching a movie on a device without headphones or an adult who just cannot seem to find their “inside voice,” but why should I be subjected to the frenzy of media and alerts that I am inundated by when on the ground? Flying used to be a time to unplug, as there was not the option to connect using Wi-Fi provided specifically for this in-flight entertainment.
I agree that in-flight entertainment using a personal screen has its perks, especially when it comes to the amusement of young children who become restless after 15 minutes sitting in the middle of a three-seater row. I take part in the free messaging ability of Delta’s network, which while slow, is admittedly better than disconnecting from friends for hours on end when important things are taking place. Yet, I choose to connect silently in the form of messages rather than FaceTimes or phone calls. Once in-flight Wi-Fi is made unlimited and free for all passengers, it is inevitable that some will abuse the ability in the form of communication that disrupts other passengers. Already, there are reports of passenger arguments that can escalate to banishment from a flight — this will only be escalated with widespread availability of Wi-Fi. That person talking loudly on the phone in a quiet study space? Now they are next to you on a four hour flight and you cannot simply up and move.
Logistically, I find it hard to believe that these airlines would be able to provide free unlimited Wi-Fi at a speed that would allow passengers to be productive, regardless of if they are downloading work documents or streaming music. The messaging ability on Delta’s flights does the trick, but it is far from the speed which messages are sent on land. Some airlines offer free in-flight Wi-Fi, but only for limited amounts of time or data usage, which helps with the quantity of users and speed of the network. I am no computer-whiz, but I doubt that a flight of a couple hundred passengers would all be able to utilize a Wi-Fi network at an altitude so far away from any transmission or tower with any efficiency.
My thoughts most likely fall short of any argument that would convince airlines to reverse their progress, but I beg them to consider limitations and standards to what can be done on a flight. Just as on land, we never know what those around us are escaping from, nor do we know what they are trying to accomplish while we all speed from point A to point B.