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19 November 2009

Free Airborne WiFi Makes it More Likely That You Will See Inappropriate Inflight Entertainment

Recently, Google announced that it would provide free wireless access at 47 airports throughout the US, and on domestic US flights on Virgin America. While this is a temporary promotion, it represents a progression that will probably lead to universal, and likely free, Internet access in airport terminals and in aircraft.

While online access is something that most passengers will welcome, there are a few issues that have not been resolved, and likely will not be resolved by laws or regulation, and that is the issue of what is acceptable online behavior in an airport or on an airplane.

While laptop computers, cell phones, and other personal electronics have been around for more than a generation, only in the last few years have these technologies have made it easy to play videos, and the costs dropped so much that almost anyone can afford to have some kind of electronic device that can play audio files or video files, or stream audio and video online.

The problems come when one person's freedom to read, hear, or watch almost anything imaginable runs into another person's freedom from objectionable material. In the years before there were iPods and laptops, about the worst thing that a passenger could bring on board was a magazine featuring nudity (magazines still widely available in airport newsstands).

While there are no federal guidelines for what kind of content is allowed on PEDs, most flight attendants would likely use a common sense approach similar to the one described in a November 12, 2009 Washington Post article written by Monica Hesse. She quotes a flight attendant who said that he flights attendants don't do anything about what people are watching unless it is disturbing other passengers. has provided general guidelines for how a passenger should behave with their personal electronic devices. When it comes to wireless activity in the terminal, and especially in an aircraft suggests the following guidelines:

  • Don't Make Noise When playing music or other audio content, use headphones or earphones. If you are using a laptop, video game, or other device where you need the visuals but don't need the audio, turn the audio off. If that isn't possible, don't the device.

  • Don't Display Inappropriate Images - Inappropriate images generally include sexually oriented material, material depicting extreme acts of violence, or other images that could be upsetting to other passengers. You can display these kinds of images only if no one else can see your display, but few seats in an aircraft or in a terminal would likely have this amount of privacy. This rule holds true

  • Avoid Phone Calls While in Flight - It may be tempting to use in flight online access to make calls on Skype or some other VOIP service, but don't. It unlikely that your seatmate will take kindly to an unwanted conversation, and though it may be possible to make a call in privacy from the lavatory, but would you want to admit that in public later on?

  • Read Whatever You Want - If someone is close enough to read what you are reading, then that person is violating your privacy.

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Photos: hfabulous, Wikipedia

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