ATW Editor's Blog

Airlines should make the call on inflight phone calls


To understand how US Congress works these days, examine its attitude towards the use of cellular phone use during flight. In a show of rare bipartisan solidarity, the US House of Representatives’ transport committee has unanimously passed a bill that would make it illegal for passengers to use their phones during US airline flights.

Yet less than a year ago, Congress remained at its more typical partisan loggerheads under its budget sequester showdown, refusing to release aviation funding to the point that FAA had to furlough many of its air traffic controllers, resulting in hundreds of US flights being delayed or canceled.In other words, congressmen are willing to shut down the US air transport system for the sake of their petty budget fights, but threaten their peace in their first-class aircraft seat and bring on the legislative hammer!

The phone bill has a long passage before and if it becomes law, but would appear to have the support of US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, who said last year he wants to ban such calls to protect aviation consumers.

Congress was stirred to action because of the potential for inflight cellphone use to be permitted now that the US Federal Communications Committee and FAA have decided such calls do not pose a safety concern.

We all realize that a long, loud phone call by a fellow passenger has the potential to be irritating, but if it’s safe then it is not something that Congress or DOT should regulate. Just as some trains offer “quiet” cars where voice calls are not permitted, and some hotels and cruise ships ban smoking completely while others permit it in designated areas, airlines should be left to decide how best to approach the use of cellphones.

Delta Air Lines decided what its policy would be early on, announcing it would not allow inflight calls because feedback from its customers says they do not want this  service and cabin crews do not want the hassle of dealing with potential arguments over noisy calls. Delta CEO Richard Anderson was right to make his airline policy clear regardless of where regulation on the issue ends up. Delta may well attract more customers as a result – equally, however, there may be some people who are attracted to an airline that allows cellular calls and there may be some airlines that want to charge people for seats in either a “quiet zone” or a “phones allowed zone” on their planes.

Some US carriers may be quietly hoping that Congress and DOT take this issue out of their hands because they don’t want the hassle of dealing with another potential “air rage” factor. But it would be a huge mistake to, quite rightly, want less regulatory interference in matters of business, but then seek it out when it’s convenient. If unruly passengers are the concern in the cellphone debate, airlines should campaign for stronger laws and punishment against those who disrupt flights and for clearer protections for flight crew who have to intervene and possibly constrain an offending passenger.

Republicans in general, and House transport committee chairman Bill Shuster in particular, have made their anti-big government battle cry a cornerstone of their legislative stalemate. Yet they want the government to intervene in cellphone use because, in Shuster’s words, such calls are “too loud, too close, or too personal.” That’s not a safety or fair-consumer issue. When it comes to inflight chatter, only airlines and their customers should make that call.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Feb 21, 2014

For Pete's sake, stop this cell phone nonsense. Libraries have a quiet zone and it is enforced, some doctors offices do not permit the use of cell phones. I hope both the airlines and the federal government ban the use of cell phones in flight.
Its bad enough I have to endure some obese person oozing into my space, flowing over the armrest or worse yet, putting the armrest up or the person whose breath and body odor can gag a maggot.
The last remaining positive experience of flying these days is the sound of silence. Cell phone calls are not necessary and they infringe on other passengers private space, basically the 18 inch wide seat with a 30 seat pitch.
All we as passengers have is this period of quiet and it woulds a shame to lose it to obnoxious and uncaring rude people. Ban cell phone calls in flight!

on Feb 23, 2014

Karen I wholeheartedly agree with you. It's very interesting to see how so many people are creating an outcry about being able to use phones, by showing their intolerance they are showing the same lack of consideration for others as the act that they decry.

on Feb 24, 2014

My being quiet in no way offends and annoy's my fellow passengers. Chattering on a cell phone is a display of boorish behavior and disturbs the peace and quiet of others.
There is no dire need to gab endlessly and when the conversation gets heated, the volume always goes up and so manners go by the wayside. Wait till you land and talk till you go hoarse.
When passengers read books, magazines, doze off for a while, no one else is affected, can't say the same for using a cell phone.
Its extremely intrusive and I hope the airlines and governments will not allow this lack of consideration. People today can not be expected to respect the space of others so it must be done by those in charge.

on Feb 24, 2014

Personally, I agree with both of you. I would rather cellphones were banned inflight, but I also think that people should be good, tolerant and respectful citizens in public.
However. that is not my point regarding cellphone use inflight. I'm saying that with the safety concerns no longer an issue, the decision on whether to ban cellphones should be left to the individual airlines, not to governments. In the US, the airline industry is deregulated (though sometimes hard to believe given how much the US government intervenes in how they run their business), and cellphone use should be decided based on normal commercial considerations as well as customer preference. Airline executives do not need to be spoon-fed on this issue; and if they choose to let government decide, then they can't also complain about other government interference on such things as tarmac delays and ancillary fees.
Sure, I'll buy my ticket with an airline that bans or controls inflight cellphone use. Like I prefer a hotel with a no-smoking policy. Or a restaurant that doesn't require me to shout. But I want my service providers to make that choice, not Uncle Sam.

on Feb 24, 2014

The problem is that many, not all, but many can not be expected to do the courteous thing. How many times flight attendants have to ask passengers to turn off electronic devises over and over, to keep bags stored under the seat, not to block aisles or congregate in the rear of the plane. Many people today are not like those from decades ago, the me first generation that demands its their right to do whatever they want and nobody can tell them what to do. They despise authority and chaff against rules and regulations that they don't agree with.
I have flown many times and the last bit of peace and quiet will go by the wayside if cell phones are permitted in flight.
Your Quote " people should be good, tolerant and respectful citizens in pubic" is wishful thinking. The prevailing attitude of people today will not lend itself to your lofty ideals.
This is not your fathers generation.

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