In-flight phone calls likely won't happen with proposed new U.S. rules

In-flight phone calls likely won't happen with proposed new U.S. rules

The United States Department of Transportation is getting closer to establishing formal rules on whether or not to allow in-flight communications, including receiving and placing phone calls while on a plane. Likely, according to reports, that decision would be no, meaning that passengers would continue to be barred from placing or receiving phone calls while they are in transit.

"The Department of Transportation plans to pursue the next step in what could lead to a formal ban on in-flight calls, the agency's general counsel Kathryn Thomson said in a speech last week," the Journal reported.

The DoT is developing a notice of proposed rulemaking and would open the issue up for further comments until February before a final ruling is made.

Late last year, the FCC, another government agency, was considering reversing rules that would bar in-flight phone use. The FCC views that the several decade-long ban on in-flight cell phone use established to prevent interference with radio equipment is now no longer relevant. Despite the softening approach by the FCC, those rules if ever approved, would fall behind the DoT's regulations as the DoT rules would take precedent.

The controversial DoT move is being opposed by the airline and wireless industry with airlines wanting to make the decision themselves and the Telecommunications Industry Association saying that the DoT doesn't need to interfere.

Source: Wall Street Journal


Reader comments

In-flight phone calls likely won't happen with proposed new U.S. rules


What about the fact that you can make VoIP calls using data on the flight? Skype has offered the ability to call out to normal phone lines for years. That will only get more common. Imagine if, say, Apple starts offering service like that.

How is it now? I'm sure if a flight attendant sees you talking on your phone (or someone complains), you'll be asked to end the call. Doesn't matter if its Skype or Cell Network.

Then block VOIP. There is no need for voice calls. I get annoyed at my wife on the phone in the car with her.

No, society should dictate. Not necessarily law makers, but society. If people want it, then right on. If not, then the masses rule. I am all for doing what you want when you want, until it affects people that want no part in it. When it affects those around you, like smoking as an example, society should get to dictate whether that is acceptable or not. I do many things that some people don't like, but as long as I am not affecting them, they have no right to state whether I can or not. Phone on planes would be affecting those around them.

It's not whether or not it annoys me (which it does) it is whether or not it annoys everyone. I think in this case it does.....

Agree 100%. In Spain we're slowly banning phone calls from high-speed rail unless you're outside of the seating area. If you're in the cafeteria car, by all means take your call, but nowhere else

That's not a good attitude... I know this isn't exactly a "personal freedom" dont-tread-on-me kinda thing so I don't wanna sound like a nut but once you allow the government to make the rule chances are it will never go away so I don't think making a blanket rule for something that is mearly an inconvenience is a very good idea... I mean airlines are free to set policies that prohibit voice conversations or perhaps segregate seating as they once probably did with smoking (or maybe even make a "compartment" that is somewhat sound proof where those needing to make ab urgent call can go one at a time). I.see no need to regulate something that is not a health or safety issue... For the record I have kept.my phone on in planes for years because I know there is no technical reason not to and I have NEVER felt the need to make a call during a flight so I'm not "that guy"... Just don't think there is any call for one size fits all, blanket solutions from "on high" so to speak.

I see your point, but what is the benefit of allowing it? I mean, if your in an emergency, what's stopping you from breaking the rule (its only a rule after all, no one is going to collect your phone as you board) and calling a loved one or whatever you may really "need" to make a call for.
FWIW, I'm normally along the same thinking as you. Keep government out of these type of laws, let the "People" decide. Or Companies decide. I'd be perfectly fine with a segregated area for phone calls though, but I don't see airlines doing this.

Nothing really I suppose... I guess the only thing is that rules would prevent the development of infrastructure for handing voice calls while the plane was over a remote area... I'm definitely thinking a little sound proof "spot" much like the smokers cubes in Germany's Frankfurt airport... If there were more than one user flight attendants would limit each user to a reasonable.length of time (3 minutes or something).

The benefit of allowing it would be that people who wanted to make phone calls could make them. I don't see the difference between calling on the plane vs. calling in other public places. Yes, planes are usually quieter, but passengers usually have headphones or earplugs in anyways (or are asleep). In my experience, there are more irritating noises in a typical flight than people making phone calls-- young children, for instance. Flight attendants usually make loud, obnoxious passengers quiet down regardless of what they're doing, so I don't see it being much of a problem.

That is one of those things that everyone accepts as fact, but it's not actually true.  Case in point: cell phones are currently not allowed to be used at all (data or voice) on planes.  The government has changed the regulation to allow data and is considering it for voice. 


Having said that, I do think that in this case the government should just leave it to the airlines to decide since the original safety concern is no longer the issue and the only issue remaining is the annoyance factor.  Cell phones in movie theaters aren't regulated so why an airplain?  I would tend to pick airlines that prohibit it though.

That's what I was talking about... When a perceived safety concern existed it made sense to have the regulation... Now that the safety concern is.out of the picture lets leave it up the the airlines... Excellent point about movie theaters... Its not regulated there but theaters definitely listened to customers on that one... Never heard of a theater where talking on your phone wouldn't earn you a quick.trip.to the door.

Because you are trapped on an airplane, not in a movie theater. Think about an argument over a phone conversation, much more heated and possibly dangerous than text. Annoyance is definitely a factor, but not the only one.

To me, it isn't about taking away freedoms, its about what is socially acceptable. If it only affects you, then let freedom ring! When it affects those around you, we should get a say as a society on whether that acceptable or not.

What's wrong with airline specific rules that allowed for more flexible solutions such as "calling and no calling" seating? Airlines could even charge more for seating in a calling area and support the phones with infrastructure (pico cell types deal).

See my above reply to Cleavitt76. To me, more than just annoyances. Think about for a moment the type of information that will be relayed via phone conversation and not text. Something very bad happens, family member dies, lose your job, etc. That type of info is rarely relayed via a txt or email conversation. Now be trapped 30k feet up with someone that receives that call. The possibilities of what can happen next are endless. I hate being the worst case scenario guy, but that has the possibility of going very very bad very quickly.

EDIT: Also, the more I thought about it last night is when I realized what I typed above. Maybe that is just me justifying why it should be a law, but I think the point still stands. I am not the type of person that wants regulation on everything, I actually would prefer much less regulation on many things. But in this instance think there needs to be very clear cut rules. When you are in the sky everything changes as say compared to a movie theater. If that makes sense.....

People that talk quietly or at normal levels probably wouldn't bother anyone.  The ambient noise on the plane would make it difficult to even tell they were talking.  People talk to each other on planes all the time without bothering anyone else.


It's the self absorbed idiots that shout their entire conversation that is the problem.

So should we ban little children from flights because other passengers don't want to listen to them screaming? If listening to other people on the phone bugs you so much, how do you go anywhere in public?

Why would anyone want to sit foot away from you or anyone l they talked on a phone.?
Get a life it can wait. All one needs is to sit next to someone who shouts into a microphone for 60 minutes or even 1. NO !

Texting - sure

Calling - hell no! It's bad enough that there's always a crying baby on the plane, I don't need the kid's dad talking on the phone too

I wonder how that would affect things like making Skype calls (via in-flight WiFi) especially in light of how you can use it exactly like a normal voice call and can even make calls through Skype to POTS phones.

Is there internet access on airplanes? (I haven't flown for a long time. So I have no clue.) and if there is couldn't people use Skype or something?

Yes and yes. I think the latency is a bit high but no worse than what you get on an international call going via satellite.

I hope they avoid making call on planes. I don't want to be stuck for 2 or 3 hours while people talk on their cell phones, that's friking anoying. Picture a plane with 150 passengers, 30 passengers are talking, it would be like being at a stadium.

It wouldn't be THAT bad due to the white noise of the engines. Call centers pipe in white noise to mask some of the background noise of hundreds of other people talking in close proximity. On the other hand, some asshole for or five rows back would end up trying to yell over the noise so maybe.

Yeah, but wouldn't the flight attendant tell them to shut up? Those people usually get quieted down whether they're making a call or doing something else obnoxious.

THANK GOODNESS! No one wants to hear self-important blowhards who are so important that they think it's OK to sit and talk on the phone no matter where they are or who they inconvenience/annoy.

I think if they ever allow it and some one is just endlessly chatting away in the seat next to me that I'll just put my phone to my ear and unleash an endless stream of "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" in their direction.  Oh, I'm sorry, is my endless talking annoying you and interrupting what you're trying to do? Huh, go figure.

If I were working on that plane I would kick you off well before the guy talking on his phone, being a dick for the sake of being a dick is just plain stupid.

Yeah, you're going to throw someone off the plane mid-flight.  That's the solution.  Even if you "scolded" me or "told on me" when we landed, I doubt that I'd be in violation of ANYTHING.  I'd have been talking on my phone and the jerk next to me who was talking on his phone didn't like it.  Hmmmm...same thing he was doing to me.

Of course, you resort to calling people "dick", so we know your mindset.

My apologies, if someone is sitting on a plane holding a phone saying "blah blah blah blah" while another person is trying to have a conversation I guess that wouldn't make you a dick, how about a petulant child, can we go with that one?

Talking on a phone is no different to two people having a conversation on a plane, and we aren't banning that.

I think the more childish one in this conversation is the one who feel entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want and be damned with anyone else around.  Of course, the prelude to a temper tantrum with namecalling fits perfectly.

Let me explain the difference to you and please be sure to read this as slowly as I'd say it: Talking with someone next to you is completely different than having to listen to some self important blowhard babble on and on next to you.  If you can't understand the difference, then please continue wiht your name calling as the most effective argument that you have.

Seeing as you were unable to read my post perhaps you should take your own advice and go a little bit slower with this one.

In my comparison you aren't one of the people having a conversation, I implied if two other people are having a conversation, clearly that must also be banned, hell it's worse because you're getting twice as much conversation.

But you did just say that if you were talking with a person it would be ok. I guess your level of self importance is pretty high.

Two people sitting next to each other rarely gets loud enough to bother other people.  People on the phone talk LOUDER to overcome the ambient noise.  If you've ever heard the difference between two people talking to each other in a restaurant and one person talking on the phone, then you should know what I'm talking about.

There's still the proximity issue.  If the guy next to me is blathering on, on the phone, it's way more annoying tham two people in the row behind me having a normal conversation. 

Phone calls should be banned, but the functionality for VOIP calls should remain for emergencies.  On September 11, passengers were able to make emergency calls via the built-in payphones.

Imagine if the passengers on MH-17 were able to make VOIP calls.  The copilot tried making an emergency call via cellphone, but couldn't connect.  If the passengers had VOIP, we might have a better idea of what happened to the missing plane.

I thought the whole reason it was banned was because of the interference with certain instruments while operating in the 800/850 MHz range.

Here's a novel idea for all those people getting their panties in a twist over people making calls on a plane, wear headphones.

Hell, the noise of the plane itself is annoying enough, just listen to music, or watch a movie, or go suck your thumb in the lavatory but if a person wants to talk on their phone, let them. When you're in a restaurant or club do you go around telling people to stop talking to one another while you're having a drink because it's disrupting your sad existence? No? Well why the Hell should it matter on a plane?