We can see it now. Ad exchanges and data providers will be cross-indexing phones that are traveling at several hundred miles per hour with flight paths and live airline schedules. Yes, advertiser -- we can segment users by flight in midair. Imagine the sales lift (no pun intended) from promotions for restaurants, car rentals, rooms, etc. in your landing city. The Federal Communications Commission has already relaxed the rules around using digital handheld devices during takeoffs and landing. And the next obvious step is reconsidering whether full cell phone use can be allowed on flights.
The FCC has opened for comment the possibility that voice and data channels can be used in the air. Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement, “Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband. Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”
The proposal would allow fliers to use their phones and data services once above 10,000 feet. In the past elements of the airline industry itself have resisted such efforts. While lifting an FCC ban on phone communications in-flight would not oblige any airline to allow it, the move would take almost certainly lead to uncomfortable jockeying among the carriers over their own regulation. Worse, without FCC sanction, one can imagine the sorts of in-cabin arguments that might break out when the jackass in Row 14 insists it is an inalienable right for him to talk on the phone in midair.
I am one of those guys who has enough trouble listening to the nervous talker in the row behind me all the way from San Francisco to Philly. You can spot them in the waiting lounge before boarding. And you pray that the seating gods did not put you within earshot.
They almost always do.
But of course you know that a cottage industry of in-flight ad targeting will arise. In addition to gleaning exactly where someone is headed (even when they will arrive), geo-fencing a flight path is also capturing a superb lean-back moment. After all, this is one use case where you know the mobile user is desperate for distraction, is willing to consume massive amounts of content (anything to avoid the in-flight magazine and worn SkyMall), and has no TV screen competing with it. Pour on the content marketing, the free games, and the branded media. And talk about a user state begging for underwritten data usage. Around fifteen minutes into that boring flight, most users will realize that they just burned through half a month’s worth of data. They would love to sit through an infomercial for a few megabits more.
And we will need this distraction because the jackasses who are having three-hour conversations in the seats on either side will be driving us so frickin' nuts. We will be desperate to plug in the earbuds and have someone -- anyone -- blot out the unique 21st-century torture that is listening to only one end of conversations among total strangers.