U.S. Department of Transportation to look into ban on in-flight voice calls

Alex Wagner
Editorial Director of News and Content from  Omaha, NE
| December 12, 2013

iPhone 4S dialer app

Last month, the FCC revealed that it plans to consider lifting the ban on in-flight cellphone use, including voice calls. The agency plans on collecting input from consumers and experts on the matter, but another government agency has already stepped forward to voice its concern with the FCC's proposal.

Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, today said that the DOT will seek public comment on whether or not allowing in-flight voice calls is "fair to consumers." Foxx explained that his agency has received statements on the matter from airlines, travelers, flight attendants and members of Congress, all of whom are against allowing voice calls during flight. "As the FCC has said before, their sole role on this issue is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight...USDOT will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls," Secretary Foxx said.

One of the concerns with the proposal that opponents have cited is that many passengers are unlikely to want to be stuck in an airplane with a bunch of other people talking on their phones. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee today introduced legislation into Congress that seeks a ban on in-flight calling, and California Senator Diane Feinstein later joined Alexander. The bill would still allow the use of personal electronic devices like Kindles and iPads during flight.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler came out in defense of his proposal in an open letter today, saying that his agency's proposal is the start of an effort to eliminate outdated policies and keep up with today's technological innovations. He went on to explain that the newly-proposed rules will maintain a ban on in-flight phone use unless that plane is equipped with the technology to prevent mobile signals from interfering with the onboard equipment. Even then, Wheeler said, the free market means that airlines can choose to program their equipment to allow things like texting and web use while disallowing phone calls.

While most folks seem to be on board with allowing phone use during takeoff and landing, the topic of in-flight calling looks like it'll be a much more heated issue. That's not a total shock, as I'm sure that many people don't want to listen to the conversations of others during their flight and that they don't want to pack headphones, sleeping pills or earplugs to drown out those discussions. We'll just have to wait and see how this battle over in-flight calling ends, and considering how passionate both sides of the issue seem to be, it'll definitely be an interesting clash to watch.

What are your thoughts on in-flight phone calls? Would you use your phone to call others during a flight if the ban were lifted?

Via Bloomberg, Reuters, USA Today