Talmon Marco, founder of the VoIP app Viber, was met at La Guardia airport this evening by a waiting posse of port authority cops. What did he do? Well, it's not quite as outrageous as Alec Baldwin getting in trouble for playing Words With Friends, but it's still a bit ridiculous.
Apparently, Marco had been using the GoGo in-flight wifi to make a call through his VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) and free texting app Viber. A flight attend came over to ask that he end the call, claiming an FAA rule against VoIP use in the air; Marco knew full well that no such rule exists, and told her as much, but ended his called promptly.
The rule , in point of fact, is a preference of the airline, not the agency:
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.
Another flight attendent was called in, who claimed it was a rule not of the FAA but of the GoGo terms of service, and after he protested once more, he said Marco was being difficult and handed him an FAA brochure, and when Marco took a picture of it, the flight attendent said he was going to have the cops waiting for Marco at the gate.
Jeez Louise! Considering that the VoIP rule—be it at the airline's discretion or the agency's—is in place not for flight safety but cabin quiet, this all seems a bit OTT.
In the end, the cops ultimately decided it wasn't such a big deal, and Marco went merrily on his way. [TheNextWeb]
UPDATE: Talmon Marco sent us this email at 5:39am EST, to "get the record straight."
Normally I would thank you for the coverage, but this is not what I expect to get coverage for...
Anyway, just to get the record straight:
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?
Anyway.. back to work..