Our post on putting American Airline’s Gogo Wi-Fi connection (powered by AirCell’s inflight wi-fi technology) to the test has caused for quite a bit of chatter in the blogosphere. Most of the post focused on our experience in the “Cloud” and watching videos on Hulu.com and chatting over instant messaging services. However, the VoIP call I was able to make to Andy Abramson of VoIP Watch has caused for the most chatter. Aircell and American Airlines made the announcement that they had rolled out in-flight Internet on certain routes last week, and stated that the network would block voice and video calls. The press release read, “Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services are not available.” Yet, Andy and I found a way around this by using Phweet, a service that uses Adobe Flash Audio. We have been called “hackers” from journalists at Wired and USA Today. Hacker isn’t quite the right word: we used a Flash based service that works in the browser and allows for Twitter friends to make a voice call. Aircell has released the following statement regarding the call that I was able to make a week ago:
It is against American’s policy and Gogo’s terms of service to use VoIP. Aircell has multiple protocols and practices in place to prevent the use of VoIP. Obviously, it is extremely difficult to stop every instance of VoIP but Aircell is monitoring and working constantly to enforce American’s policy and Gogo’s terms of service.
So, even though we were technically able to conduct a VoIP call, what we did was a violation of AirCell’s policy. The question is how and whether AirCell will enforce it’s no-VoIP policy. Will they end up blocking Flash audio or would that also stop many permitted uses, like streaming video? Or will the flight attendants be responsible for disconnecting passengers who appear to be talking to their laptops. I guess I will just have to wait until my next American Airlines flight to find out. We’re also left to wonder why AirCell has to block VoIP in the first place.
Do they think it’s rude to have people conducting phone calls using VoIP, but socially acceptable to have them make the same phone calls using the expensive Airphone handsets they have in every row? At one point, it was totally acceptable on most airlines to use the Airphone in-flight phone service, though we are informed that that service has now gone defunct. There are so many other annoying distractions on planes these days: crying babies, surly flight attendants, and, of course, people who talk to each other in person. We’re hard pressed to see how someone talking on a VoIP headset would make things any worse.