The tug of war between AT&T, Verizon and the US airline industry is out of control. Today, multiple airlines worldwide cancelled flights to the US. “A nightmare”, one American pilot told Reuters.

Multiple airlines in Asia, the Middle East and Europe cancelled flights and changed aircraft models to avoid an uncertain situation at US airports.

The airlines are concerned about 5G signals. AT&T and Verizon were scheduled to activate a part of their nationwide 5G network — including masts near airports — on Wednesday, January 19.

The plan was cancelled at the last minute. 5G has not been activated around airports. That was announced on the day before the scheduled activation. Airlines cancelled flights due to uncertainty surrounding the situation.

Tim Clark, president of airline Emirates, called it “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” episodes he had ever seen.

How it came to this

In early 2021, AT&T and Verizon won the US auction of the mid-frequency band for 5G, also known as the C-band. In recent months, the operators made plans to deploy 5G in the C-band.

The plan was criticized by US airlines and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). They are concerned that 5G in the C band will cause interference with aircraft and airport communications equipment.

At the start of January 2022, the FAA urged AT&T and Verizon to delay the deployment of 5G. The delay would create time to research the potential risks of 5G around airports.

Initially, AT&T and Verizon did not comply. The providers shrugged, referred to Europe – “they’re doing fine” – and got down to business. As soon as the US government intervened, things changed. The operators promised to postpone the deployment and take new safety measures.

Second time

The new deployment was scheduled for Wednesday, January 19. The FAA was not satisfied. The authority again sounded the alarm, this time with the support of most major US airlines.

The group threatened to cancel flights if AT&T and Verizon deployed the network. Again, the operators did not respond — and again, the US government intervened. At the last minute (Tuesday, January 18), AT&T and Verizon announced that the deployment would be halted.

The decision was made too late. Although several European authorities indicate that 5G in the C-band does not create problems for communication devices in aircraft, some airlines are not convinced. Everyone thought that AT&T and Verizon were proceeding with the deployment. The cancellations are an understandable result.