European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) guidelines allow airlines to permit the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) throughout the flight if they so wish. The guidelines allow use of mobile phones and the Internet on the journey.
In practice, Internet use is possible only on planes equipped with base stations for satellite-based connections, and both the technology used on the planes and airline procedures must be able to ensure that the new practices are safe.
Base stations haven't yet been installed on most aircraft making internal flights in Europe, so these planes permit only the use of PEDs with 'flight mode' activated.
Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi encourages airlines to offer their passengers Internet access.
'Air-passenger services will be improving as soon as the airlines are able to utilise aeroplanes equipped with base stations. Mobile-phone networks cannot cover flight altitudes, and making calls from planes without base stations isn't permitted anyway,' clarifies Jorma Kivinen, a special adviser with Trafi.
Intercontinental flights first
Installing base stations or purchasing new aeroplanes with base stations already fitted is a significant investment for airlines. In flights to and from Europe, the opportunity to use telecommunications will be available first on intercontinental routes.
Internet access is already possible on nearly all of Lufthansa's intercontinental flights, and SAS is installing the necessary technology for its long-haul flights next year. The Airbus A350 models that Finnair will be using from next year come telecommunications-enabled. Japan Airlines and British Airways already offer their passengers Internet access on some intercontinental routes.
For flights within Europe, Finnair, Flybe, and Lufthansa are still considering the matter, while SAS already has 10 Net-enabled planes.
Norwegian is the only airline to offer a free Wi-Fi connection on over 80% of its European flights.
'Customer feedback has been extremely positive. Both commuters and holiday-makers really appreciate the service,' says Charlotte Holmbergh Jacobsson,Communications Manager for Norwegian.
Most airlines still ban or at least limit the use of mobile phones onboard, to ensure a pleasant flight experience for all passengers.