Vancouver International Airport (YVR/CYVR), Ri...

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Gate-to-gate use of mobile devices finally seems set for take off. With the news that U.S. Airways and Alaska Airlines are to permit passengers to operate smartphones (in ‘airplane mode’) and tablets, one of the more restrictive safety measures of recent years is beginning to fall away.

Combined with the expanding availability of in-flight wi-fi,  the rapid improvement of connectivity on passenger airlines will change the way we fly.

Business users are the group most set to benefit from the increase of BYOD culture into the cabin. Fewer interruptions to accessing one’s own device and data will clearly increase productivity, making time lost in transit almost a thing of the past. Add to this the likelihood that airlines follow suit with other forms of transit by adding power outlets and most of the challenges to working on-the-go have been addressed. Tablets are gaining power and the space that they save in even the most cramped work space, coupled with a reliable  in-flight wifi connection and uninterrupted usage, will feel like nirvana for professionals during the first few flights.

The advantages to leisure travelers are similar, with the productivity benefit simply morphing to the ability to enjoy what we want to watch, when we want to watch it. The current capabilities of the in-flight wifi connections are unlikely to permit full streaming of content in the immediate future, but that has to be the long term goal. In the meantime, simply being able to reliably watch, listen to, or read the content that we’ve set aside for our own entertainment at any point in the flight will allow a more personalized flying experience.

But there may also be downsides.

Depending on your perspective, the prospect of fellow passengers using this new found connection to make calls via wi-fi could well be an unwelcome addition to the many distractions already present on flights. Long haul flights in particular may fray the nerves, which may see the creation of the ‘quiet zones’ that are now common on trains. It is also likely that airlines will use their provision of wi-fi as a reason to scrap the current entertainment systems (a little too late for United Airlines, following the law suit against them by Sony), which could leave passengers not up to speed with the latest devices twiddling their thumbs.

These are minor concerns, however, when compared with the leap in productivity and personalization that the development of in-flight technology will bring.

We look forward to bringing you future blog posts from 30,000 feet.

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