Is a federal ban on inflight mobile phone calls on planes really necessary? Or should the decision be left up to airlines?
This week a Transportation Department committee recommended that airlines (not the federal government) should decide whether passengers can make phone calls during flights.
Last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) considered ending the federal ban when was determined that cellular service onboard planes was not a threat to aircraft navigation or communications systems.
The possibility of inflight calling resulted a rancorous debate– passengers and lawmakers claimed that cell phone use on planes could lead to inflight mayhem— they said it could interfere with flight attendants’ ability to do their jobs keeping passengers safe and the cabin environment calm. They added that inflight phoning would exacerbate the already tense atmosphere in tightly packed planes– think “Shut up! No, YOU shut up!”
With pushback like that, the decision was put off, but now it’s popping up again…
Inflight cell phone for voice calls use is already permitted by many airlines around the world. Even highly regulated Europe relaxed its ban on flight calls way back in 2008. None have reported any of the mayhem predicted by US politicians.
Companies that provide cellular service onboard say that calls usually don’t last more than two minutes and the service is only used by a handful of passengers on any given flight. They say that most passengers choose to use their mobile phones for texting instead. “Inflight mobile phone usage is not causing the disruption the naysayers have predicted,” says OnAir’s Francoise Rodriguez.” Millions of people connected inflight on planes last year without a single complaint about noisy phone calls.”
In the US, Delta’s CEO publicly stated last year that it will not allow the use of mobile phones for voice calls during flight with or without a federal ban. Matt Miller, American Airlines spokesman sounded a bit softer on the issue this week saying, “We’ll keep the wishes of our customers in mind if the rules governing cell phone use shift from the government to individual airlines.”
Airlines for America, the airline trade group, agrees with the committee’s recommendation, too: “We’ve always said it should be up to the airlines to decide what’s best for their employees and customers,” said spokeswoman Jean Medina.
Gogo’s popular inflight wi-fi system has the capability to handle voice calls, but for now, the VOIP calls are blocked on commercial flights. But the ability to use inflight wi-fi for voice calls is a very popular feature on Gogo-equipped private jets. Gogo currently offers free texting (only) on commercial flights for T-Mobile customers.
Elsewhere, airlines that have adopted the onboard technology have the ability to turn voice calling on or off– and some, like Lufthansa, have decided to keep it off. Ryanair, Europe’s largest carrier, experimented with allowing cell phone use on its planes in 2009 and dumped the idea due to lack of interest.
Why don’t people in these other countries yack endlessly on their cell phones on planes if they can? Because using a mobile phone on a plane is not the same as using it on the ground. It’s very expensive… To make a call, you first have to set your phone to international roaming, and then calls cost about $3-$4 per minute– and charges appear on your mobile phone bill.
Does anyone remember those GTE or Verizon phones installed in nearly every airline seatback in the 1990s? People could use those phones with the swipe of a credit card, at similarly steep rates, if they wanted to. But they did not.
Because of the cost (and peer pressure) I really don’t think that cell phone use onboard planes is all that big of an issue. Usage patterns here would not be too different from elsewhere in the world.
If the feds are searching for something to regulate, what about enforcing a minimum seat pitch and seat width aboard aircraft? If they are truly concerned about reducing stress and controlling mayhem in airline cabins, a standard 33 inches between seats that are no less than 18 inches wide would go a long way. This week, a federal panel recommended that airlines be required to disclose seat size, and that FAA should enforce a minimum amount of personal space that must be allotted per passenger
So what you you think… should the federal government to tell airlines if they can or cannot allow cell phone use for voice calls onboard planes? Or should the feds stay out of the airline business altogether?
I’d love to hear your comments! Please leave them below.
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