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DOT Speaks Out Against In-Flight Phone Calls in 22-Page Notice

Feb 22, 2014 9:00 am

Skift Take

Despite passengers’ opinions, the decision will come down to a battle between the government agencies that are each fighting for what they believe to be consumers’ rights.

— Samantha Shankman

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Matt Slocum  / AP Photo

This Oct. 31, 2013 file photo shows a plane passenger checking her cell phone before a flight in Boston. Matt Slocum / AP Photo


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.

The Department of 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.

Congress is also getting into the act. Lawmakers are pushing legislation to require transportation regulators to implement a ban on the calls.

In its notice on Friday, 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 Americans opposed letting cellphones be used for voice calls while flying, 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.

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at @AP_Joan_Lowy.

Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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