Americans Are Overwhelmingly Against Use of Cell Phones on Planes. Should They Be?

The public comment period for the FCC proposal to lift the 23 year old ban on inflight cell phone use has closed, and public comments are overwhelmingly against a change.

The FCC Chairman believes that the safety rationale for the ban no longer exists. Airlines should be able to ban the practice, or find accommodations like a no cell phone use seating section. But it’s hard to justify government making the use of inflight cell phones illegal without a compelling safety issue. The FCC voted 3-2 to consider lifting the ban.

With such a tight majority favoring even consideration of an end to the ban, public opposition could sway them.

And even if the FCC lifts the ban, the Department of Transportation which regulates airlines could still act.

As, of course, could individual carriers. Some have stated they won’t allow cell phones inflight even if it’s no longer illegal for them to do so.

But is this public hysteria justified?

People can give themselves peace and minimize disturbance without resort of regulation or legislation. That’s what noise cancelling headphones are for.

Airplanes aren’t that peaceful now, anyway. Planes are noise. Children scream (no regulations address that!). And Seatmates talk loudly to each other. Are cell phones actually worse than this?

What’s more, the parade of horribles is empirically disproven because planes had airfones for years without diaster. And foreign airlines have allowed inflight cell phone use for years without fights breaking out.

Inflight cell phone use could even be good — for important business calls that improve productivity, or even imagine an emergency flight, a passenger desperately trying to reach a sick loved one. They might not make it on-time. This would allow final words to be spoken. Surely some calls can actually matter enough to be justified. It doesn’t even have to be so extreme. A parent can call their child to tuck them in at night, even while they’re on the road for a business trip. Dead time is a great time to make the call to your parents you’ve been putting off for too long.

I might even find inflight cell phone use entertaining, and wouldn’t mind eavesdropping on a famous person or two on my flights departing Los Angeles… It would make my twitter stream more interesting, at least.

Would lifting the ban — given that the justification for government’s role no longer exists — really be so bad?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary is 100% correct. It is not the governments job to make your flight pleasant…that’s for the airline. I know that on a 14 hour flight, sometimes a two minute call to explain a technical issue would save me two or three hours of trying to explain it on the phone, not to mention if a diversion or major delay happens. I hope people practice courtesy, and airlines make rules…but there is no real reason for a ban.

  2. Still on ground and just with the aircon on the guy several seats away is shouting into his cel phone. No awareness, or care, that he annoying those around. He will have to shut down soon. If cell phone were allowed on the flight someone would end up wrapped in duck tape.

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