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US Government considering complete ban on in-flight cellphone calls

updated 04:18 pm EDT, Mon August 4, 2014

Ban focuses on disruptive nature of phone calls rather than technical issues

Not a year after some usage limitations on airplanes were lifted for smartphones and tablets comes news that the United States government is looking to issue a permanent ban on in-flight voice calls. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is reportedly developing a "notice of proposed rulemaking," according to the Wall Street Journal, that could bring an end to cellphone calls onboard planes before they start.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started an inquiry in November 2013 into bringing an end to the limitations of data usage on airplanes. The FCC was considering the idea that technology advances in devices no longer posed a risk to safe plan operation. In December, a vote was passed to consider new rules for inflight communications.

However, the FCC recognized that a change in policy as a result of the comments wouldn't overturn a full ban on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or DOT rules. At the time, the agency added that the DOT was looking into its own process of banning in-flight calls (which would not void the loosened rules on other kinds of smartphone usage). Comments on proposed rules were due by February 14.

The FAA made an announcement the month before that passengers could use cellular devices during all phases of flight, with some limitations still in place. Devices would still need to disable cellular service or be in airplane mode, unless the flight offered Wi-Fi access. Bluetooth would be allowed, but devices needed to be held or put into the seat pocket during takeoff and landing. The change allowed device usage from gate to gate, but still didn't overturn the FCC rules barring voice calls.

The DOT doesn't appear to be concerned with data or text usage with smart devices, but rather how disruptive a phone call can be to staff and passengers. A spokeswoman for DOT said the rulemaking notice to be released in December would outline the ban for receiving or making calls. The entity would then make a ruling after comments were collected in February. The DOT sought comments earlier in the year, but Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the agency would consider a ban in December 2013.

It appears that airlines believe they should have the final say in allowing calls, not the Department of Transportation. Airlines could use phone calls as a way to promote themselves against competition. Any allowance would most likely require the installation of additional technology to route signals from airliners back to carriers as the FCC pointed out. Some international flights already allow phone calls, but can turn the service off or require shutdown before entering United States airspace.

It's possible that there could be a gap between allowing voice calls and a ban taking effect. The FCC could change its policy on calls before the DOT institutes a ban. Rules from the FCC are currently upholding the voice call ban, but anything from the DOT would override the FCC's policy. Voice calls policy isn't something that the FCC is looking at based on convenience, but rather just if a ban is still required on a technical level. Airlines would have to seek permission to allow them from the FAA and DOT if the rules change before a ban is issued.

by MacNN Staff



  1. chimaera

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 04-08-07

    Remember this guys. If your plane is hijacked and you call it in, you will be arrested upon landing.

  1. TheGreatButcher

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 06-11-00

    "It appears that airlines believe they should have the final say in allowing calls, not the Department of Transportation. Airlines could use phone calls as a way to promote themselves against competition."

    And this is why the DOT or FAA or FCC should ban it outright, otherwise we'll all get to listen to idiots yakking away.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Currently you can make in-flight calls using the airplane's own seat phones -- for an exhorbitant charge -- so this wouldn't deal with that issue. I'm in favour of a ban on non-emergency cell calls while in-flight, but then I'm also in favour of bans on non-emergency cell calls in a lot of places (concerts, movie theatres, worship services ...)

  1. trenchcoat77

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-22-03

    The old Airfone service was permanently decommissioned on Dec. 31, 2013. There are no more seat phones.

  1. davoud

    Junior Member

    Joined: 01-14-05

    Several hundred angry people confined in an uncomfortable space for some hours, and the airlines want to add to the problem by allowing them to shout into mobile phones, which will make a certain number of them even angrier. What could possibly go wrong? In the name of all that is rational, we need a complete ban.

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Bravo! Give us that total ban. Flying today is miserable enough. I'd hate to be stuck for four hours next to some loud-mouthed salesman who won't shut up.

  1. And.reg

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 02-22-04

    Originally Posted by TheGreatButcherView Post

    And this is why the DOT or FAA or FCC should ban it outright, otherwise we'll all get to listen to idiots yakking away.

    I'm not sure what's the most annoying:

    1. hearing a few people talk on a cell phone (meanwhile, personal electronic devices and wireless are allowed)...
    2. having to listen to screaming crying babies on the plane...
    3. waiting in line to use the bathroom... or being the person who has to be overlooked by those waiting to use the bathroom...
    4. hearing various unimportant announcements by the pilot at inconsistent volumes...
    5. or getting a ringing ear from those damn jet engines blasting at 100 db for the whole 6 hour flight, which is usually louder than all of these combined...
    6. or listening to bigmouths who don't use earplugs in flight wanting others who talk quietly on a cell phone to shut up.

    The cell phone ban is the STUPIDEST non-issue the Department of Transportation could be worried about. Nobody cares about other people's cell phone conversations. Bring your own ear plugs and tune them out yourself. Why do you need the DOT to do that for you?

    Methinks some of your opinions make a bigger mouth than one's phone conversation to a loved one. I bet you've called (or texted) a loved one in your car anyway...and with other people in the car with you.

    And speaking of texting... forget about all these yuppies texting while driving their cars... apparently we need to worry about someone in Coach isle 34 talking on a phone!

    This is bullcrap!

  1. trenchcoat77

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-22-03

    ^This type of attitude is why most people want cell phone conversations banned on airplanes. Loud, angry, unreasonable.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    trenchcoat77: thanks for correcting me. I could have sworn I saw some on a fairly recent flight, but that could have been last October.

  1. And.reg

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 02-22-04

    trenchcoat77: No. People don't have bad attitudes on cell phones on airplanes; they have to be respectful anyway or else an attendant could come over. Besides, they're not even talking to you, and as I showed in my post, there are a lot more annoying things to consider. Most of the "loud, angry, unreasonable" opinions are coming from people who want the occasional cell phone user on a plane (who is not even doing anything wrong) to shut up for no reason at all...other than your own personal gripes and inconveniences.

    Why are these poor people even being targeted anyway? They're not doing anything wrong. This who ban bill makes no sense.

  1. efithian

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-21-04

    Extend business class to half of the plane and allow use of any device at any time in business class. Let the slugs in economy be in airplane hell. And keep the curtains open between economy and business so that the low lives can see how the rest of us live. Why would anyone fly economy class? Oh, too expensive? Then stay home or drive.

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