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Battle Brewing Over In-Flight CallsDecember 19, 2013 By: Adam Leposa
The recent possibility of the lifting on the ban on in-flight cell phone calls has sparked a backlash among airlines and consumers.
The story began back in October, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruled that airlines could safely expand passengers’ use of portable electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, during all phases of the flight, including takeoff and landing. The FAA ruling allowed airlines to begin to make individual arrangements to allow passengers to use their devices for playing games and watching videos during almost all phases of the flight.
At the time the move won praise from major travel associations, including the U.S. Travel Association, the Global Business Travel Association, Airlines for America and the American Society of Travel Agents.
The GBTA's executive director and COO Michael W. McCormick commented, “Business travelers applaud the recommendations of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee to allow greater use of personal electronic devices during flights. These busy road warriors will take every opportunity to stay connected with their customers and partners – the key to success. Although this is encouraging news, business travelers recognize that safety is the number one priority and must never be compromised. GBTA urges the FAA and the airlines to take the steps necessary to implement the new policies and to consider opportunities for even greater use of personal electronic devices. We will continue to monitor the testing and implementation phases to ensure all safety concerns are addressed.”
Lifting the ban on the use of in-flight devices, however, raised the possibility of lifting the ban on in-flight calls as well. Previously, calls during flights had been prohibited over fears that they would interfere with cellular networks on the ground. Technological advances had rendered that concern moot, and with the in-flight use ban lifted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to begin a public comment process to remove the call restriction.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) raised concerns about the measure, however, saying that allowing calls on planes may be unfair to consumers who desire peace and quiet.
"Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight — and I am concerned about this possibility as well," DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the time.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson has weighed in on the situation with an emphatic “no” to in-flight calls. Citing customer research and direct feedback from Delta frequent flyers, Anderson said that in-flight calls would be a disruption to the travel experience.
"In fact, a clear majority of customers who responded to a 2012 survey said they felt the ability to make voice calls onboard would detract from – not enhance – their experience. Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard," Anderson said in a recent memo.
What do you think? Should the ban on in-flight calls be lifted? Should the DOT step in, or leave the issue up to individual airlines? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.