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Transportation Department opposes cell phone calls on planes

By Joan Lowy

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:03 p.m. HST, Feb 21, 2014

WASHINGTON >> It looks like the government is more conflicted about cellphones on planes than most travelers. Even as one federal agency considers allowing the calls, another now wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

Passengers -- particularly those who fly often -- oppose allowing calls in flight, polls show. In line with that sentiment, the Department of Transportation signaled in a 22-page notice posted online Friday that it wants to retain a ban on the calls. But the notice comes just two months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to pursue lifting the ban.

Transportation regulates aviation consumer issues. The FCC has responsibility over whether the use of cellphones in flight would interfere with cellular networks on the ground.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he wants to repeal the current ban, calling it restrictive and outdated. He also wants the airlines, not the government, to have final say on in-flight calling. He declined to comment Friday on the Transportation Department's notice.

Echoing some travelers' concerns, Transportation said it believes allowing passengers to make cellphone calls "may be harmful or injurious" to other passengers.

This is because "people tend to talk louder on cellphones than when they're having face-to-face conversations," the department said. "They are also likely to talk more and further increase the noise on a flight, as passengers would not be simply talking to the persons sitting next to them but can call whomever they like."

Some planes already have seat-back phones in place, but they are rarely used, it said.

The "concern is not about individual calls, but rather the cumulative impact of allowing in-flight calls in close quarters," the department said.

In an Associated Press-GfK poll three months ago, 48 percent of those surveyed opposed letting cellphones be used for voice calls while planes are in flight, while 19 percent were in favor and 30 percent were neutral. Among those who'd flown four or more times in the previous year, the rate of opposition soared to 78 percent.

Delta Air Lines told the government last year that 64 percent of its passengers indicated that the ability to make phone calls in flight would have a negative impact on their onboard experience.

Among the most ardent opponents of lifting the current ban are flight attendants, who worry that phone conversation will spark arguments between passengers and even acts of violence.

"Allowing passengers to use cellphones during commercial flights will add unacceptable risks to aviation security, compromise a flight attendant's ability to maintain order in an emergency, increase cabin noise and tension among passengers and interfere with crewmembers in the performance of their duties as first responders in the cabin," said Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, responding to the department's proposal. The association represents nearly 60,000 flight attendants at 19 carriers.

Congress, inhabited by some of the nation's most frequent flyers, is also getting into the act. Lawmakers are pushing legislation to require transportation regulators to implement a ban on calls.

"Most passengers would like their flights to go by as quickly and quietly as possible," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last week as the committee gave bipartisan approval to his bill. "When it comes to cellphones on planes, tap don't talk."

The current FCC ban was adopted in 1991 based on concern the calls planes might interfere with cellular networks on the ground, but technological advances have resolved those worries. In 2005, the FCC cleared the way for airlines to begin offering Wi-Fi in flight.

Last October, the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates safety, dropped its ban on the use of personal electronic devices such as tablets, music players and smartphones to send email, to text or to surf the Internet during takeoffs and landings. The agency said it is no longer worried the devices will interfere with cockpit electronics. However, phone calls during takeoffs and landings are still prohibited.

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HAJAA1 wrote:
on February 21,2014 | 09:45AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Yah because terrorists would contact those on the ground and give them info, not that they would not do it anyway.
on February 21,2014 | 09:56AM
Bully wrote:
I dont want to hear inconsiderate people talking on their cell phones on the airplanes.
on February 21,2014 | 10:04AM
cojef wrote:
Right who wants to listen to a loud mouth throughout the flight, especially anything over 4 hours.
on February 21,2014 | 10:26AM
mcc wrote:
Good! Nothing worse than listening to someone jabbering about nothing on a trip. That sort of activity could cause plane rage...
on February 21,2014 | 10:24AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Cell phone use should be allowed during flight but the cell phone user has to step outside while talking.
on February 21,2014 | 10:24AM
Skyler wrote:
They're not alone - hardly anyone wants to hear the loud yap yap yap CAN U HEAR ME NOW?! on a danged airplane.
on February 21,2014 | 10:31AM
gari wrote:
Tom Wheeler what are you thinking about ? Its about time consideration for others should be CONCIDERED.
on February 21,2014 | 11:10AM
Rainbowgran wrote:
One's space is invaded enough all around due to close quarters in regular, economy class flights which is the best some of us can afford. If there were other means other than flying that would be great and alas not affordable from Hawaii to any place in the World.
on February 21,2014 | 01:15PM
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