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It would seem prudent to at least let the airlines make a decision on the wisdom of in-flight phone calls rather than unilaterally banning them. A ban could hurt airlines competitively among business travelers as some international airlines allow calls.

Should airlines, presumably with passenger input, decide whether in-flight phone calls from mobile devices would be permissible, or should there be an outright ban?

As the Federal Communications Commission mulls rules to allow airlines to decide whether to permit mobile voice and text services on commercial flights above 10,000 feet, the House Committee on Transportation today took the next step in pushing its bipartisan legislation that would give airlines no choice in the matter, and would ban in-flight phone calls.

House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) introduced H.R. 3676 with U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) as the lead co-sponsor in December, and on February 11 the bill was moved out of the committee for further consideration.

The bill would prohibit in-flight phone calls made from mobile devices during scheduled flights, although members of the flight crew and law enforcement personnel acting in their official capacities would be permitted to make calls.

Interestingly, the ban would not cover phones already installed on aircraft.

“When it comes to cell phones on planes, tap, don’t talk,” Shuster said. “Airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined. In our day-to-day lives, when we find someone’s cell phone call to be too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away. But at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else for an airline passenger to go.”

By this logic, calls from phones installed on the aircraft should be banned, as well, but the legislation specifically permits calls from such equipment.

Shuster notes that Web access, texting and email would be permitted from mobile devices under the bill while phone calls would be prohibited.

In Europe and other regions of the world, airlines are empowered to decide whether in-flight phone calls should be permitted, but the House Transportation Committee would bar airlines from making the choice, and would just unilaterally ban the practice.

Many international airlines allow phone calls in-flight. These calls average less than 2 minutes in duration because of the high cost of roaming charges and other factors.

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Tags: airlines, fcc

Photo credit: This busy lady likes to make calls on the airplane. A House bill would ban the practice during U.S. domestic flights. Sam Churchill /

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