Friday Briefing: DOT Proposes Airplane Phone Rule, Royal Caribbean’s Cuba Cruises

A new rule to deal with cell phone calls on airplanes and Royal Caribbean International’s first Cuba cruises are the headlines to watch today in the travel industry.

DOT Proposes Rule on In-Flight Calls

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed a new rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to tell consumers in advance if the carrier operating their flight allows passengers to make voice calls using mobile devices. 

While current FCC rules prohibit the use of mobile devices on certain radio frequencies while onboard aircraft, those rules do not cover Wi-Fi and other means by which passengers could make calls, the DOT said.

“Consumers deserve to have clear and accurate information about whether an airline permits voice calls before they purchase a ticket and board the aircraft,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in a statement announcing the proposal. “Today’s proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight.”

The DOT argued that allowing voice calls without adequate notice constitutes an unfair and deceptive practice, and that, as technology advances, the cost of making voice calls may decrease, leading to more voice calls on airplanes. 

“ASTA is in the process of analyzing DOT’s proposal and we plan to consult with our members and file comments,” Eben Peck, SVP, government and industry affairs, American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), said in a statement provided to Travel Agent. “At first blush, while we appreciate DOT exempting small travel agencies from the proposed regulations we are concerned about the potential for yet another federally-mandated consumer disclosure on top of the multiple disclosures – code-sharing, insecticide, hazardous materials, etc. – agents have to grapple with on each and every transaction today.” 

The proposed rule would exempt small ticket agents as defined by the Small Business Administration, making $20.5 million or less in annual revenues, ASTA said. 

The DOT said it is also seeking comment on whether it should simply ban voice calls on flights within, to or from the United States instead of mandating disclosure. 

Royal Caribbean International Opens Bookings on Cuba Cruises

Fresh off its approval by the Cuban government, Royal Caribbean International has announced that it is opening bookings on its Cuba cruises. 

Guests will sail onboard the newly renovated Empress of the Seas on a five-night itinerary departing Miami on April 19, 2017. The ship will then reposition to Tampa offering two itineraries with calls to Havana on April 30 (seven-night sailing) and May 20 (five-night sailing). 

During the cruises guests will enjoy people to people experiences exploring Cuba’s natural beauty, architecture, cuisine, music and art. All cruises will be designed in accordance with current U.S. to Cuba travel regulations, Royal Caribbean said. 

Guests will be able to explore Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site, including notable squares, historic neighborhoods, a local artisan market, Havana's rum museum and Hemingway's former residence and favorite haunts. Onboard the ship, Royal Caribbean will offer Cuban cuisine, like cortaditos and café con leche, as well as experiences inspired by the island, like salsa music. 


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