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Government weighs permitting cellphone calls on planes

By Joan Lowy & Scott Mayerowitz

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:32 p.m. HST, Nov 21, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Rules against making cellphone calls during airline flights are "outdated," and it's time to change them, federal regulators said today, drawing immediate howls of protest from flight attendants, airline officials and others.

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in a statement today that the commission was proposing greater in-flight access to mobile broadband. The proposal will be considered at the commission's Dec. 12 meeting.

"The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," Wheeler said, adding that modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably.

The proposal would also allow passengers to use their smartphones to send email and download data. The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet in altitude, but not during takeoffs and landings.

Early reaction was skeptical. Flight attendants and others have worried that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.

"Passengers overwhelmingly reject cellphone use in the aircraft cabin. The FCC should not proceed with this proposal," the Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement in response to the FCC chairman's comments.

"In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky," the flight attendants group said.

American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said the airline will wait to see what the FCC does. "However, our Wi-Fi at this time doesn't allow voice calls."

"Our customer feedback indicates people may not want that policy but of course tastes and desires change," JetBlue spokesman Morgan Johnston said in an email. "We would prioritize making the cabin comfortable and welcoming for all -- for those who want cell service and for those who like peace and quiet."

Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Hudson Crossing, said, "There are bad ideas, and then there's this."

"Unlike the ability to use their personal electronics and Wi-Fi from gate to gate, passengers don't want this," he added. "The constant chatter of passengers on their mobile phones has the potential to further increase tension among already stressed-out passengers. It will be a catalyst for increased cases of 'air rage."'

The Federal Aviation Administration recently lifted restrictions on the use of most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, but not cellphone calls, which fall under the FCC.

The FAA based its decision to ease restrictions on electronic devices on recommendations from an industry advisory group. The same advisory group also recommended that the FCC review its restrictions on phone calls.

The FCC proposal is primarily a response to the advisory group's recommendation, said an FCC spokesman, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to release the information in his own name.

The move came just 16 days after Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellular telephone industry, took over the post of FCC chairman.

If the agency decides to move ahead with the proposal, it would be just the first step in a long rulemaking process that includes soliciting public comment.

Should the FCC lift its restrictions on cellphone use, airlines would still have the option of deciding whether to equip planes to handle calls and data downloads.


Mayerowitz reported from New York. AP Airlines reporter David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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cojef wrote:
Certainly a violation of each person's space. Could you imagine 3 individual sitting abreast all using their phone simultaneously, let alone a whole plane full yakkng. There would be no personal space for each passenger nor the flight attendents. Value my solitude moments and respect others rights to sleep while flying to whatever destination. A bad idea!
on November 21,2013 | 12:27PM
localguy wrote:
Google "Acutely Dysfunctional & Clueless Government Bureaucrat" and you get Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Clearly Tommy Boy found an envelope on his desk with $1 inside so now he is kow towing to those fools who just can't live without a phone call. Tommy, with email and texting allowed inflight, their is no need for telephone calls. Haven't you ever sat next to a loud mouth babooze who just can't shut up? Who gives the most torrid details of their sex life on the phone, no concern for others who may hear? Life will go on just fine without cell calls on planes. Now if we could just stifle Tommy Boy.
on November 21,2013 | 01:07PM
AhiPoke wrote:
PLEASE DON'T. I don't want to imagine listening to someone on his/her phone for several hours.
on November 21,2013 | 01:08PM
palani wrote:
on November 21,2013 | 01:10PM
mcc wrote:
Please don't. Ever hear of "Flight Rage"?????
on November 21,2013 | 01:19PM
kuewa wrote:
on November 21,2013 | 02:05PM
john_zee wrote:
Oh God, NOOOOOO!!!!!
on November 21,2013 | 02:18PM
opalaedo wrote:
Oh my, skyping in the air. STOP! The air is one place where you could disconnect from the world and just get some me time before landing and heading for the next business meeting or whatever. Give people the quiet time. There are cultures in which talking on the phone in the movie there is acceptable. That alone is too much. Can you imagine that in the plane when you are trying to sleep on a long flight? If allowed, there should be an area in the plane dedicated for yakkers, just like how in Japan where in the bullet trains, phone usage is limited to the spaces at the end of the train cars and separated by doors to the seating areas.
on November 21,2013 | 06:59PM
Skyler wrote:
Bad idea. Not only is it already annoying, you can set off bombs w/cell phones. Double-stupid idea.
on November 21,2013 | 08:06PM
Skyler wrote:
Follow the money. Wheeler is getting paid big time for this - you watch. What a weasel.
on November 21,2013 | 10:49PM
Skyler wrote:
What's wrong with weasel, silly modbot?
on November 21,2013 | 10:49PM
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