FCC Chairman: No In-Flight Calls on Planes

Airplane Boarding
Photo by frankpeters/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

It looks like travelers on airlines in the United States won’t be able to make in-flight calls anytime soon.

In a new statement by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on the FCC’s website, Pai said that the FCC is taking the plan off the table.

“I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants, and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes,” Pai said. “I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest.  Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”

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The battle over in-flight calls began back in 2013, 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.

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 FCC voted to begin a public comment process to remove the call restriction.

The plan drew a backlash from travelers concerned about having to listen in on their fellow fliers’ conversations in the air. In a survey released by the Global Gateway Alliance (GGA) during the initial public comment period, 66 percent were against the plan. When asked to describe their feelings towards cell phone use in-flight, the most commonly used word was “annoying”, followed closely by “no”.

The plan drew criticism from airlines as well. Back when it was first announced, Delta CEO Richard Anderson criticized it in a memo issued to Delta employees.

"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 his memo.

FCC commissioners must now vote on whether or not to permanently cancel the plan.

What do you think of the move to keep banning in-flight calls? Let us know on our Facebook page.  

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