Our view

FCC shouldn’t allow in-flight calls

December 22, 2013 

  • In summary

    Use of electronic devices while in flight should be confined to texting or connecting to the Internet.

If the Federal Communications Commission loosens rules to allow airline passengers to talk on cellphones while in flight, we hope the airlines also will issue individual parachutes for all aboard. Many no doubt would decide to bail out rather than endure the chatter of a blabby seat mate.

The FCC spurred the uproar over a possible rule change when it announced last month that the issue of airborne cellphones would be discussed during the agency’s December meeting. Predictably, FCC officials were inundated with phone calls from people outraged by the possibility of being trapped in the cabin of a plane with fellow passengers talking on their cellphones.

Tom Wheeler, the new FCC chairman, explained that the agency has to discuss the issue, given the FCC’s statutory responsibilities.

“If technology eliminates interference and therefore it eliminates the need for the interference protection rule, then we ought to eliminate the rule,” Wheeler explained.

What he’s talking about is the longstanding rule that passengers switch off their electronic devices while in flight so as not to interfere with radio communications and other electronic devices used to fly the plane. The rule has been a point of annoyance to passengers who would like to use laptops, phones and tablets to play games, text friends or otherwise pass time during the flight.

Recently, airline officials have confirmed that our personal devices don’t really pose a hazard. They don’t actually interfere in any significant way with flying the plane.

So, as Wheeler notes, the FCC is obligated to consider eliminating the interference rule.

But while it is doubtful that many passengers would complain about on-board texting or other silent uses of cellphones, talking on the phone is an entirely different matter. Flying can be a stressful enough experience already without adding the annoyance of a cabin full of windbags talking all the way from O’Hare to LAX.

Even Wheeler has his reservations.

“I don’t want to listen to the personal conversations and the business deals of the person sitting next to me on a flight,” he said.

Fortunately, the Department of Transportation appears poised to step in and ban the use of cellphones for voice calls while in flight. DOT officials said they had heard and wanted to respect the public outcry at the prospect of being stuck for hours in close quarters with people flapping their gums on their cellphones.

Hallelujah to that.

People have become accustomed to reaching for their cellphones during any idle moment. It is no surprise that many would love to kill time during an airline flight talking on the phone.

But those who make the rules about how we conduct ourselves aboard planes have to ensure some decorum. We already are crammed like sardines into a narrow tube, forced to sit within inches of or even touching complete strangers while competing for arm rests and inadequate overhead space for our one small piece of luggage.

Unleashing vocal cellphone chatter might be the spark that ignites on-board riots.

We know it’s useful to be able to alert friends or relatives on the ground that a flight is late or that we are about to land. But that can be done with a silent text.

Use of electronic devices while in flight should be confined to texting or connecting to the Internet.

Better yet, read a book.

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