Turbulence & Technical Difficulties Ahead This Summer

By: James Flippin · June 28, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

What’s 5G C-Band?

A coming change to cell phones may leave US travelers wishing they’d stayed in airplane mode.

Starting July 1, US cellular carriers will start using a new spectrum of 5G frequencies known as the 5G C-band. While this change will boost your cell service, it could also interfere with the radio altimeters used in certain airplanes.

A radio altimeter is a device that lets the pilot know the plane’s altitude by bouncing radio signals off the ground. The new 5G C-band frequencies may interfere with older altimeters and make airlines less willing to fly in poor weather, leading to a higher risk of delays and cancellations going into the summer.

Making the Switch

US airlines have known about the coming switch to 5G C-band for at least a year. With the advanced warning, many companies have worked to retrofit their fleets with new altimeters compatible with the 5G broadband.

But plenty of airplanes have yet to be updated. And the scramble for new altimeters has been so widespread that the supply has not been able to keep pace with the demand. Starting July 1, planes without the new altimeter will still be able to fly. But if the weather along a flight’s route is particularly treacherous, airlines will likely delay or cancel the flight.

Summer Delays

According to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, approximately 80% of domestic planes have been updated with the new equipment. This still means that 1 of every 5 planes will be at a greater risk of getting delayed for at least a portion of the summer travel season.

Buttigieg urged airlines to factor the altimeter shortage into their future plans and set realistic flight schedules over the coming months to avoid misleading travelers. Given the air travel industry’s track record when it comes to setting realistic expectations, it might pay to be wary when making your summer plans.

You might consider purchasing travel insurance, or trying to add an extra day to the beginning or end of your travel schedule — especially if you’re flying into places known for inclement weather. With potential technical difficulties on top of the turbulence, it can’t hurt to be extra prepared.

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