Despite a last minute glitch involving some cockpit displays, the age of continuous wi-fi connectivity for airline passengers has never been closer to reality than today.

This NYT story on likely US relaxations of rules about mobile phones and other wi-fi enabled devices says it well:

The coming change represents a cultural milestone of sorts for the digital age, the moment when mass travel and mass communication finally meet.

Closer to home, this SMH report examines the caution, which is not necessarily a bad thing, by Australia’s safety regulator.

But Australia, like some other jurisdictions, already has transport and natural emergency universal alerting systems in use which could be extended more broadly into air passenger and commuter safety enhancements.

One of the compellingly sensible sticking points about passenger use of wi-fi devices, and in particular headsets during preparations for takeoff concern the risk of distracting people from the emergency evacuation drills, or the real thing, if a jet suddenly suffers an on board emergerncy and comes to a screaming halt in flames.

But many readers would have been driving through tunnels here or abroad when a test universal emergency broadcast is made through every car radio that is on, no matter tuned to what station.  Those who live in bush fire risk areas will probably have received mobile phone updates over the last few summers telling them of impending threats, or to avoid this road or that.

The logical thing to do in airliners is have a universal overriding emergency video broadcast in all airliners, detailing the safety features of the particular jet and thus solving the attention problem, just as tubulence generates seat belt warnings that interrupt audio video channels on flights today.

And don’t stop with the airlines. The biggest threat to public transport safety in Sydney is probably a tunnel fire in any deep section of the city rail network, with very troubling areas between Chatswood and Epping, in much of the city circle and the airport and East Hills line.

The good thing about the more effective universal safety advice or alert system for road and rail users as well as those inside an airliner that could be activated in the near future is that most of it has already been paid for and installed by wi-fi device users.

It’s true that life is full of wi-fi abusers with no manners. But it’s also a tool that can also make us safer however or wherever we travel.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey