Transportation & Logistics

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Lifting the In-Flight Cell Phone Use Ban Will be Airlines' Call

7 Oct, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Sports Planners Could Make Voice Calls from the Air - But So Could Everyone Else

And you thought it was obnoxious when people talked on their phones in restaurants. In rest rooms. In churches.

Airplanes might be next.

According to an article in Successful Meetings, the decision of whether to allow voice calls is going to be up to the airlines, rather than the government.

Individual carriers should decide whether passengers can make in-flight calls on their smartphones, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection asserted in September.

The committee, which is comprised of both airlines representatives and consumers, presented its recommendation on Sept. 1 to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which announced in 2013 that it would consider lifting its in-flight cellphone ban.

For years, phones could only be used in airplane mode on planes, allowing users to play games and so on. As Internet connectivity is improved in planes, sports event planners and travelers can expect better and faster connections. But voice calls? That’s a whole new animal. So let’s just pause for a second and consider the ramifications. Yes, you’d be able to make a quick call to let the folks at home know your flight was going to be delayed. And yes, you could call your sports commission or the vendor at your event and let them know you were worried because you just saw an updated weather forecast for the day of the tournament.

But that also means the phone-happy person next to you could stay on the phone (battery life allowing) all the way across country, or even throughout that night flight. And an entire team of high school lacrosse players could talk away.

It’s an aspect of the dynamic nobody expected. So it’s essential to remember that even if airlines are allowed to permit in-flight cellphone use, it doesn't mean that they will. Or maybe it will lead to designated 'cell phone use' seating sections, much the same way flights had smoking sections.  (We're not forgetting those didn't work all that well for everyone else, by the way.)

"We'll keep the wishes of our customers in mind if the rules governing cellphone use shift from the government to individual airlines," Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, told Bloomberg Business.

Kevin Rogers, CEO of U.K.-based aviation mobile service provider AeroMobile, applauded the Transportation Department.

"It's promising to hear the recommendation from the Transport Department's Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection that airlines should be allowed to decide whether to allow voice calls inflight in the U.S. Across the rest of the world, airlines decide whether to allow mobile phone use, including voice calls, inflight and we believe this should also be the case in the U.S.," Rogers said. "We look forward to the outcome of this debate. We hope U.S. airlines will be able to benefit from the same levels of onboard connectivity as their foreign counterparts in [the] future."

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