Congress Considers In-Flight Cell Call Ban

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Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill this week to ban passengers from using their cell phones for voice calls on commercial flights. Texting would be allowed under the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act, should it pass.

“Passengers chatting on their mobile devices in the small confines of an airplane could make flying even less comfortable,” said Sen. Markey in the announcement. “Passengers should not have to suffer through the conversations of others, and flight crews should not be disrupted while performing their important safety and security duties.”

“Stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into their phones: babbling about next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, or arguments with spouses,” said Sen. Alexander. “Now imagine nearly two million passengers, hurtling through space yapping their innermost thoughts while you travel restrained by your seatbelt and unable to escape. Keeping phone conversations off commercial flights may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but surely it is enshrined in common sense.”

In April, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai terminated a proposal stemming from 2013, to allow cell phone calls on flights. The legislation would prevent future chairmen from reopening the issue. Flight crews would be exempt from the ban as would law enforcement officers. The bill does not cover mobile phones already installed on aircraft.

The Association of Flight Attendants and Global Business Travel Association support the measure, calling it a common sense and safety issue; the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) — which represents electronics manufacturers like Qualcomm and Samsung and several tower engineering consultants — does not. In a letter to the House Transportation Committee about similar legislation introduced in that chamber, TIA wrote: “A cell phone voice communications ban aboard aircraft would defy historical practice, interfere in the free market, restrict the rights of airlines and passengers, harm the ability of technology companies to innovate, and make the United States an outlier in the global community,” Politco reported.

June 30, 2017     

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