Update: For the latest in this developing story, check out our newest article: Foreign Airlines Resume Flights to U.S. After 5G Meltdown.
Two of the largest telecoms providers in the U.S. — AT&T and Verizon — have been planning on rolling out new C-Band 5G wireless service in many markets across the country starting January 19, 2022.
However, this planned rollout has caused a row between airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the wireless providers, with some airlines claiming the new C-Band 5G technology interferes with the radio altimeters (the instrument used to measure the aircraft’s altitude) installed on their aircraft, specifically the Boeing 777.
As a result, chaos has ensued, with a number of airlines announcing they would be suspending service indefinitely to cities across the U.S., and the telecom companies announcing they would limit the 5G rollout around airports in order to give the FAA and airlines more time to figure out how to continue operating with the new 5G technology.
Let’s take a look at the details of this quickly evolving situation.
Major Airlines Suspend U.S. Flights
On Tuesday, January 18, 2022, several major foreign airlines announced they would suspend certain flights to the U.S. as a result of the 5G rollout.
Dubai-based Emirates released a statement saying it would suspend flights to Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Houston (IAH), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA), effective January 19, 2022, and “until further notice.”
The carrier’s flights to Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), and Washington, D.C. (IAD) will continue as scheduled.
Japan Airlines shared that it has suspended all U.S. routes operated by a Boeing 777 that can’t be operated by a Boeing 787 “until safety is confirmed.” It typically flies its 777s to Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and New York (JFK).
Cross-town rival All Nippon Airways (ANA) also said it would either change aircraft on routes operated by the 777 or cancel flights altogether. ANA’s U.S. gateways that see the 777 include Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO).
Air India tweeted a message notifying flyers that it will suspend its flights between Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM) and Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), and San Francisco (SFO). However, its flights to Washington, D.C. (IAD), will continue to operate as scheduled.
According to reporting from CNN Business, German carrier Lufthansa canceled 1 flight to Miami (MIA) and is using the Boeing 747-400 instead of the newer 747-8 on flights between Frankfurt (FRA) and Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and San Francisco (SFO).
Also speaking to CNN Business, British Airways said that it has made a “handful of cancellations” because it operates flights to some airports that will not see a postponement in the 5G rollout.
Wireless Providers Will Limit 5G Around Airports
On January 18, both AT&T and Verizon said they would limit the 5G rollout around certain airports to allow the FAA and airlines to operate with minimal disruption to flight operations.
However, they didn’t hold back in making their opinion on the matter known. In a statement provided to CNN, AT&T spokesperson Megan Ketterer said that the company is “frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner.”
Also speaking with CNN, Verizon provided the following statement: “As the nation’s leading wireless provider, we have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports.” The company continued, saying “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”
The 2 telecom companies plan to roll out the network everywhere else as planned, and the airlines above went ahead with plans to suspend flights, despite the commitment to limit 5G service around airports.
The White House Is Involved
Recognizing the chaos surrounding the imminent rollout and the reactions from the FAA and airlines, the White House issued a statement on January 18 thanking AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to limit their 5G service around “key airports” and for continuing conversations with both the FAA and the nation’s airlines on how 5G could be operated in the future without causing the massive disruptions that it’s causing right now.
In the statement, President Biden noted that the vast majority of the network deployment will happen as planned. The president also said that his administration is involved in negotiations with all major stakeholders to ensure that they can find “a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist,” and said that “they will continue to do so until [they] close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports.”
At this moment, it’s hard to predict how the 5G rollout will affect flyers, beyond the previously mentioned slate of cancellations from a few airlines.
According to CNN, 10 U.S.-based airlines signed a letter to the Biden administration urging a further postponement of the 5G rollout, claiming it could result in about “1,000 flight disruptions per day.”
And in an internal memo to employees, American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour acknowledged that 5G and commercial aviation should be able to operate concurrently, but said that more time was needed to get a more complete picture of the potential risks involved.
For the foreseeable future, it’s plausible that we’ll see more airlines suspend flights into the U.S. as negotiations between the White House, telecoms providers, the FAA, and airlines continue.
If you’re scheduled to fly on international flights in the coming weeks, make sure to check in with your airline often for any updates, and if you do experience a cancellation, work with the airline directly for rerouting or other options.