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Cell phone calls in-flight a nuisance: U.S. House panel

Feb. 12, 2014, Washington, D.C. - Allowing airline passengers to make cellphone calls in-flight is asking for trouble, lawmakers said Tuesday as a House panel approved a bill to ban such calls.


February 12, 2014
By The Associated Press

The bill — passed without opposition by the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee — requires the Department of Transportation to
issue regulations prohibiting such calls. The department has already
said it is considering creating such a ban as part of its consumer
protection role.

 

The bill has no impact on the Federal
Aviation Administration's decision late last year to allow passengers to
email, text, surf the Internet and download data using smartphones and
other personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings.

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Phone calls are another
matter. Both Republican and Democratic House members, some of the
nation's most frequent flyers, said they believe in-flight calls would
be noisy and disturbing to other passengers and possibly disruptive.

 

"Most passengers would like their flights
to go by as quickly and quietly as possible," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.,
the committee's chairman and sponsor of the bill, said. "When it comes
to cellphones on planes, tap don't talk."

 

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said the
prospect of "sitting among dozens of people all talking on their
cellphones in a confined space raises serious safety, if not comfort,
considerations especially at a time when passengers face less legroom,
higher fees and pricey flights."

 

Shuster emphasized that he
doesn't fly between Washington and his district, but said he was
"looking out for" his congressional colleagues.

 

He also cited an Associated Press-GfK
poll released in December that found a majority of Americans who fly
oppose in-flight calls. The poll found that among Americans who have
taken more than one flight in the past year, 59 per cent are against
allowing calls on planes. That number grows to 78 per cent among those
who've taken four or more flights.

 

The bill is a response to moves late last
year by the Federal Communications Commission to remove the
long-standing prohibition on in-flight calls. In December, the
commission voted 3-2 to start a months-long public comment process to
end the restriction.

 

Calls during flights have
been prohibited for 22 years over fears that they would interfere with
cellular networks on the ground. Technological advances have resolved
those concerns. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he wants to repeal the
rule, calling it restrictive and outdated. He also wants the airlines,
not the government, to have final say on in-flight calling.

 

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US
Travel Association, said he doesn't "fault the FCC for finding that
these calls could be permissible, but I'm thankful that Chairman Shuster
and his committee have stepped in to ponder the question of whether
allowing them would actually benefit the travel experience."

 

Also Tuesday, the FAA issued a rule
prohibiting airline pilots from using cellphones and other personal
electronic devices for personal use during flight and other aircraft
operations. The agency was already telling airlines they should prohibit
their pilots from using the devices except when they aid navigation.

 

Some airlines give pilots
iPads called electronic flight bags that contain charts and other
navigation information. FAA's rule allows use of those devices to
continue.