Passenger Rights

Should Airlines Decide Whether to Allow Inflight Cellphone Calls?

Last year’s brouhaha surrounding the issue of inflight cellphone calls is being revived with a recommendation to the DOT that the decision be left to the airlines.

Remember last year’s brouhaha surrounding the issue of inflight cellphone calls? It’s set to make a return engagement.

This week, a four-member Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections submitted a report to the Department of Transportation recommending that the decision whether to allow inflight cell calls be left to the airlines’ discretion. In other words, no federal regulation, likely resulting in a patchwork of policies.

Given the committee’s supposed focus on consumer needs and rights, the recommendation is surprising. Consumer feedback to the FCC has overwhelmingly opposed cell conversations. The Association of Flight Attendants has called for an outright ban on the calls. A no-call bill has been introduced in Congress. The DOT has signaled its general opposition to inflight cell use on safety grounds, in particular that it would distract passengers from attending to routine safety announcements and flight crew instructions in emergency situations. And several airline CEOs have pledged it will never happen on their planes.

With such overwhelming opposition to cell calls, both from travelers and from travel professionals, for reasons of both comfort and safety, it would seem that a legislative ban at the federal level would be the sensible solution. It is certainly the solution favored by a majority of average flyers.

For now, the recommendation is in the hands of the DOT. There’s no word yet on when they might make a final ruling on the matter. Until they do, the outlook is for more brouhaha ahead.

Reader Reality Check

Should it be left to the airlines to decide whether to allow inflight cellphone chatter?

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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