Tuesday Briefing: ASTA Urges DOT to Ban Voice Calls on Flights

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The long-running controversy over allowing voice calls on flights continued today as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) submitted its final comments on the subject to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)

ASTA urged the DOT to use its authority to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices in air transportation to ban voice calls on domestic and international flights beginning or ending in the U.S. If the DOT decides to leave the decision up to carriers, ASTA urged the DOT to refrain from placing any disclosure requirement regarding in flight voice calls on travel agents, or at least to work to minimize the impact of any such obligation.  

In its comments ASTA argued any disclosure requirement would add to an already-heavy disclosure burden on travel agents. 


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“ASTA wishes to take this opportunity to express its concern about the already-heavy disclosure burden – from code-sharing to insecticide to hazardous materials – travel agents already have to grapple with on each and every transaction today,” the organization wrote in its comments. “For this reason, among others, we urge the Department to explore the concept of a unified ticket agent disclosure regime that would accommodate disclosures related to voice calls and any future required disclosures without unduly impacting our members’ business operations or undermining the Department’s consumer protection mandate.”

During a recent press call ASTA SVP of Government and Industry Affairs Eben Peck had noted that the disclosure burden on agents was among the organization’s top legislative priorities. The issue also applies to other topics on which the DOT is currently seeking comment, including a proposal requiring travel agents to inform consumers of baggage fees. 

In calling for a ban on in-flight voice calls, ASTA joins other travel industry organizations such as the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). In comments submitted to the DOT in 2014, GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick also called for a ban

“In such a confined space, there is no reasonable way to provide quiet areas on aircrafts to reduce the harm of loud cellphone conversations,” the GBTA said at the time. “Unlike Amtrak’s ‘quiet cars,’ GBTA does not believe it is feasible to create talk-free sections of aircraft. DOT should not add to business traveler’s misery. On commercial aircraft in the United States, silence is golden.”

Airlines, too, have been wary of allowing calls on their aircraft. In a memo to employees issued in 2013, Delta CEO Richard Anderson said that the airline would not allow voice calls on its flights should the option become available

"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. "Even as technology advances and as regulations are changed, we will not only consider what we can do, but as importantly we will also consider what is right for our customers and our employees.”

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