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Frequent fliers dread idea of in-flight calls

Dec. 11, 2013, Washington, D.C. - As federal regulators consider removing a decades-old prohibition on making phone calls on planes, a majority of Americans who fly oppose such a change, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.


December 11, 2013
By The Canadian Press

The Federal Communications Commission will officially start the debate
Thursday, holding the first of several meetings to review the agency's
22-year-old ban. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has called the current
rules "outdated and restrictive."

Technology has advanced to the point where in-flight calls — relayed
first through a special system on planes — won't overload cell towers on
the ground. As a result, Wheeler has said, there's no reason the
government should prohibit in-flight calls. The FCC proposal comes weeks
after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on using
personal electronic devices such as iPads and Kindles below 10,000 feet,
saying they don't interfere with cockpit instruments.

 

Just because technology has advanced, it
doesn't mean that etiquette has. Many fliers fear their fellow
passengers will subject them to long-winded conversations impossible to
avoid at 35,000 feet.

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The Associated Press-GfK poll released
Wednesday finds that 48 per cent of Americans oppose allowing cellphones
to be used for voice calls while flying; just 19 per cent support it.
Another 30 per cent are neutral.

 

Among those who fly, opposition is
stronger. Looking just at 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.

 

Interestingly, you can
count Wheeler in the opposition. "We understand that many passengers
would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way
myself," he said in a Nov. 22 statement.

 

The chairman went on to say that his
intention is for the airlines — not the government — to make the
decision whether or not to allow calls.

 

Delta Air Lines is the only airline to
explicitly state that it won't allow voice calls. Delta says years of
feedback from customers show "the overwhelming sentiment" is to keep the
ban in place.

 

American Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways
all plan to study the issue and listen to feedback from passengers and
crew.

 

The nation's largest flight attendant union opposes a change, saying cellphone use could lead to fights between passengers.

 

Most Middle East airlines and a few in Asia and Europe already allow voice calls on planes.

 

Before the FCC commissioners can even
meet Thursday afternoon, they must go to Capitol Hill to answer
questions about the change.

 

House Communications and
Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) has called all five
commissioners to a 10 a.m. hearing on the matter.

 

Walden said Wednesday that "allowing
cellphones on planes sounds like the premise of a new reality show:
'Cage Fighting at 30,000 Feet.'"

 

Separately, House Transportation and
Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) plans to introduce a bill
prohibiting such calls.

 

"If passengers are going to be forced to
listen to the gossip in the aisle seat, it's going to make for a very
long flight," Shuster said in a statement.

 

In contrast to the negative sentiment
about phone calls, many take a favourable view of the lifting of the ban
on personal electronic devices. The poll shows that 43 per cent of
Americans support the FAA's move, while 19 per cent oppose it. Another
37 per cent are neutral. Among frequent fliers, support rises to 69 per
cent.

 

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 5-9,
2013 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel. For
results based on all 1,367 adults, the margin of sampling error is plus
or minus 3.5 percentage points. It is 5.4 points for results among 560
people who have taken at least one flight in the last year.