Fight over in-flight calling heats up
Most people hate the idea, according to a recent poll. But the government is inching closer to allowing airlines to make the final decision.
By Jim Probasco
If you are someone who flies four or more times a year, chances are you do not want to listen to other people talking on their cellphones while you are on an airplane.
According to a poll by The Associated Press released Wednesday, more than three out of four frequent fliers (78 percent) opposed in-flight voice calls.
The debate revolves around a recent ruling by the Federal Communications
Commission that there was no technical reason to ban phone calls on airplanes. The FCC voted 3-2 to begin a several months long public comment process on whether to remove its restriction and allow individual airlines to determine whether to allow in-flight calls.
The potential lifting of the FCC rule prompted two things: lots of public outrage and an announcement from the Department of Transportation that it might initiate its own in-flight call ban in the name of "fairness to consumers."
Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox said in a statement, "Over the past few weeks, we have heard of 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."
In addition to passengers, who generally oppose voice calls in-flight, the Association of Flight Attendants, representing 60,000 flight attendants on 19 airlines, released a statement expressing strong opposition to lifting the ban, mainly on the grounds it could lead to fights between passengers.
On the other side, The Associated Press reported that the Telecommunications Industry Association said it supported the change and pointed out that in countries where voice calls are allowed, they typically last one to two minutes and are often made by passengers checking voice mail without speaking.
Among domestic carriers, only Delta (DAL) has said it would not allow voice calls on airplanes no matter what the government said. Delta cited what it said was years of feedback from customers opposing the notion of allowing voice calls on airplanes.
Many foreign airlines, including most in the Middle East and some in Asia and Europe allow voice calls on planes – with restrictions.
Wednesday, Southwest Airlines (LUV) began allowing passengers with iPhones to send and receive text messages through a satellite connection – for a fee. The airline said it planned to expand the system to Android phones early in 2014.
In the meantime, several members of Congress have introduced legislation to ban fliers from talking on cell phones in flight.
At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.
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