The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday it will review its ban against cell-phone calls aboard airliners.
FCC has banned in-flight calls since 1991 because of concerns that
calls would jam ground-based communications systems. The commission
considered relaxing its ban in 2004, but decided against a change after a
flood of opposition and because of lingering technical questions.
revealing its agenda for the Dec. 12 meeting, the FCC announced that it
would consider changing its rules to allow airline passengers access to
mobile wireless services.
"Modern technologies can deliver mobile
services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to
review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
said. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA,
and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for
The proposal will allow for public comment for a period that hasn't
been determined yet. The proposal would give airlines the option to
allow voice calls, according to two FCC sources who were not authorized
to speak publicly.
Phones are used widely on airlines in other
countries, for calls and data, by linking essentially to a
communications tower aboard the plane. This would satisfy FCC concerns
about interference with ground stations, according to the two agency
"On the technical side of things, there have been changes
that do allow wireless services on planes that prevent interference
with ground service," one source said. "We think there is some benefit
to giving airlines the choice of improving consumer choice and access,
and let them to decide whether or not they're going to allow voice."
spokeswoman for the airline industry said they haven't seen the
proposal and declined comment. "We will want to analyze any proposal to
understand the impact," said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the group
Airlines for America.
Capt. Patrick Smith, a 20-year pilot who
writes the blog askthepilot.com, said cell calls wouldn't be allowed if
safety issues remained, so it's just a social question. He worries that
allowing calls could pit passenger against passenger in arguing about
how noisy the cabin could be.
"Just imagine 250 passengers all making calls at once," Smith said. "I shudder to imagine how awful that would be."
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA strongly opposed the move.
The group warned that calls would be disruptive, loud and divisive, and
possibly go beyond a mere nuisance to hurt safety by drowning out
"Passengers overwhelmingly reject cell phone use in
the aircraft cabin," the union said. "The FCC should not proceed with
Passengers including frequent business travelers
have long opposed allowing calls because of the noise from listening to
other calls. But some passengers would like to be able to call during
"My answer is quite simple: Absolutely no way. Never,"
said Diane Johnson of Fort Worth, a publications executive. "With all
the stress of travel, silence on a plane is like music to my ears."
Clegg, a hotel executive in Rockville, Md., said the last thing he
wants on a flight is someone near him talking during the whole trip.
am very much opposed to allowing voice calls aboard flights," Clegg
said. "The cacophony of babies crying, children screaming, and adults
carrying on conversations, does not need the addition of business
travelers closing deals or leisure travelers yakking about travel plans,
romances, or what they had for dinner last night!"
Kim Hunter of
Los Angeles, head of a marketing company who travels more than 150,000
miles per year, said calls are fine so long as "there is no disruption
on the both the flight deck and the cabin."
"If the later is true, I support allowing voice calls aboard all flights, both domestic and international," Hunter said.
Morrow, an information technology consultant from Overland Park,
Kansas, said opponents may be overreacting because he thinks the
airlines will charge dearly for the calls.
"While it might be
annoying to be sitting next to someone who is on the phone, I think
people are overestimating how frequently this will actually be used,"
Morrow said. "The airlines will charge dearly for the privilege and
sound quality of the call will almost certainly suffer if only due to
the background noise of an airplane"
The Federal Aviation
Administration recently allowed passengers to use their gadgets such as
games and e-readers while taking off and landing, after reversing a ban
on electronics when the plane is less than 10,000 feet in the air.
That change spurred attention to allowing calls.
not surprised we're moving in this direction," said Smith, who
suggested that perhaps sections of a plane could be mapped out for cell
phone use. Completely overturning the ban "is an invitation to