The European Aviation Safety Agency, the EU's air regulator, will now allow use of cellphones and electronics inflight without going to 'airplane mode,' and will allow cellphone voice calls inflight.
EASA spokesperson Ilias Maragakis said "We're basically opening the door where, in theory, you'll be able to continue making your phone call through the gate throughout the flight ... like you would on a train." Airlines will be left to make their own decisions on whether voice calls will be allowed.
Some surveys have shown a strong preference by passengers for planes to continue to be a quiet zone, while other surveys claim the opposite. In the past, the 'airplane mode' requirement was said to be based on avoiding having stray signals interfered with the plane's controls, but EASA has apparently concluded that that's not a real danger.
At high altitudes, there's never likely to be a workable cell phone signal from land-based towers, and planes move too fast to hand off a connection from tower to tower, but as airlines offer increasingly fast and broad WiFi service, calling over WiFi could become a thing.
But not, so far, in the U.S., where the FAA has specifically banned use of voice calling in flight, and major airlines have said they would not allow it anyway.