Battle Continues Over In-Flight Calls

PHOTO BY SAM CHURCHILL

The recent possibility of lifting 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 ASTA

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The GBTA’s executive director and COO Michael W. McCormick applauded the ruling, saying that business travelers “will take every opportunity to stay connected with their customers and partners. 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.”

Lifting the ban on the use of in-flight devices raised the possibility of lifting the ban on in-flight calls as well. Previously, such calls were 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 months-long 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. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke last month about “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. ”

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, he said that in-flight calls would disrupt the travel experience.

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