Viber, like Skype and other VoIP internet calling apps, is an application for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry phones that lets you make free phone calls to anyone that also has the application installed. It’s not much different from Skype and is modeled on the UI and layout of the iPhone’s default calling app.
Pretty innocuous huh?
Evidently Delta Airlines disagrees with me, because they recently called the cops on Viber founder Talmon Marco for using his app over the airline’s GoGo in-flight wifi service. Miffed over his use of Viber, a stewardess arranged to have Port Authority police officers on hand to meet Marco at the gate when he deplaned.
What did he do wrong? After noticing him chatting on Viber, the stewardess told him to shut the app as the use of VoIP violated FAA rules. Marco, knowing that there was no FAA rule banning the use of his app, told the Stewardess as much but complied and ended his call.
Another flight attendent joined in the conversation, admitting that the ban was a preference of the airline and was contained in the GoGo wifi service terms of service. When Marco protested, he called Marco “difficult” and handed him a brochure from the FAA. After Marco took a picture of the brochure, the flight attendent called the cops.
This is not the first time that smartphone use has gotten someone in trouble on a plane. Last December, Alec Baldwin was booted from an American Airlines flight for playing Words With Friends on his smartphone while the plane waited at the departure gate.
The FAA’s website confirms that there is no Federal rule against VoIP apps on planes:
While passengers are welcome to access the web, U.S. airlines offering WiFi service block the use of inflight calling using Skype or similar applications. This is not an FAA restriction; they 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.
Of course, the cops just laughed it off and told Marco to go home when he explained his side of the story.
“Ok.. The cops filled a report and let me go. They were pretty rude to begin with – ‘they tell you to turn off devices, that’s what you do.. ‘. Took several minutes until I managed to convey the fact I was on an “approved electronic device” at above 10k ft. in flight mode using their own service..”
“Eventually they said they actually don’t think it’s a problem..”
1. I did turn off the phone right away. I didn’t even say goodbye.
2. What irritated the flight crew was me questioning the legitimacy of their claim that this is banned by FAA, as they said it was a “flight safety issue”. Remarkably, the more senior flight attended admitted that this is a “terms of service” violation.
3. Looks like it is indeed a terms of service violation (the Gogo terms of service), but to call the cops because of this?
4. I was not rude, I was not loud, I was not abusive, I was just trying to understand what’s the source of this demand. It’s a shame Delta personnel are so abusive.
And last, but not least, the company behind the Gogo service has announced a year ago… an Android phone designed for making phone calls on planes:
So is this all about how you use their bandwidth? (at ~20kbps, Viber consumes far less bandwidth than YouTube). Will they call the cops next for using YouTube?