DOT To Shut The Door On In-Flight Cell Calling?

Will the skies remain one of the last havens free of cell phone chatter? That’s a question that has been hanging in the air since last October, when the FAA announced passengers could use portable devices like smartphones and tablets throughout entire flights as long as they remained in airplane mode.

Then in December, the FCC voted to approve a measure that would open up to public comment a proposal to overturn the technical ban on in-flight cell use. Now another government agency -- the Department of Transportation -- is preparing to weigh in on the matter, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The DOT is developing a “notice of proposed rulemaking” for December that could lead to a formal ban on in-flight calls.

The report notes that any DOT rule banning voice calls would take precedence over a rule change by the FCC. For their part, airlines maintain the decision should be left to them, arguing the DOT is overstepping its bounds. Still, CNet points out that some airlines -- including Southwest, Delta and Virgin America -- have already come out against in-flight calls because of the annoyance they would cause to fellow passengers.

All parties seem to agree that “silent data transmissions” like email, texting and Web surfing, as permitted under the FAA ruling, are acceptable, since they’re not nearly as disruptive. That model -- allowing data but not in-flight calls during flights -- also fits with the broader trend toward messaging and data use of phones at the expense of voice minutes.

Giving people the ability to communicate via mobile during flights without having to place a call seems like a reasonable compromise. Passengers sardined into coach for hours, with luggage crammed overhead and little to eat are stressed enough without having to contend with noisy cell conversations going on around them at 30,000 feet.

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