May 10, 2012 at 4:27 PM ET
New technology and an old debate over whether to allow air travelers to make cell phone calls on flights prompted some mid-air tension on a recent Delta Air Lines flight.
It ended with Talmon Marco -- the founder and CEO of Viber, a smartphone app that allows customers to make calls using voice over IP (VoIP) – being escorted off a jet late Tuesday.
Marco, 39, was en route from New Orleans to New York when he decided to call an associate using the airline’s in-flight Wi-Fi and the very app offered by his company.
He was approached by a flight attendant and told he needed to turn off his phone, Marco recalled in a phone conversation with msnbc.com. He ended the call right away and then explained that his phone was in fact switched to in-flight mode. He told the flight attendant he made the call using the Wi-Fi service with the VoIP application.
The flight attendant told Marco that the FAA forbids the use of these applications, he said.
“She said this was a flight safety issue. That makes absolutely no sense because there’s no difference between using Skype, Viber or watching a movie on YouTube,” Marco said.
Indeed, FAA notes that airlines block the use of in-flight calling using Skype and similar applications not because of an FAA restriction, but because the carriers are “simply responding to the overwhelming majority of their customers, who prefer silent communications to the public nature of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) calls.”
In other words, many passengers don’t want to be trapped next to someone talking on a cell phone.
Back on the Delta flight, another crew member joined the discussion and acknowledged it was not an FAA issue but rather a violation of the terms of service with Gogo, the provider of the in-flight Wi-Fi, Marco told msnbc.com. When he continued to engage the flight attendants on the issue, they told him he was being difficult.
“They handed me a brochure by Delta that says you are being disobedient or something like that and when I took a picture of this, they said, OK, now we’re going to call the cops on you,” Marco said.
“I wasn’t rude, I wasn’t loud, I wasn’t combative or noisy. I wasn’t hitting anybody. I was just your average passenger.”
When the plane landed at LaGuardia, two Port Authority police officers escorted Marco off the plane, he said. But when he explained what happened, they told him they didn’t have an issue with what he did and released him, Marco recalled.
He now wants an apology from Delta. He says that if carriers don’t want passengers talking on the phone – even if it doesn’t pose a danger to the flight -- they should make that clear and explain the reasons. Marco personally doesn’t have an issue with somebody talking next to him on a cell phone if they’re not loud, he said.
In response to the incident, Delta said that the use of any voice application, such as a Web-based VoIP service, is prohibited by Gogo’s terms of service.
“Delta fully supports a ban on cell phone voice transmissions. We are not, however, opponents of in-flight data transmissions (i.e. text and e-mail messages) provided they do not interfere with flight deck navigational equipment,” Delta spokeswoman Leslie Parker wrote in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, you can bet some passengers will always ignore the rules regarding gadgets on flights.
A new Airfarewatchdog.com poll of more than 1,200 people found almost a quarter, or 24 percent, of air travelers don’t always comply when asked to turn off their electronic devices before take off.
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