The Government Should Allow United Airlines to Ban Inflight Cell Phone Calls

Three years ago Delta declared that if inflight cell phone calls were made legal they would ban the calls themselves. Most passengers are against inflight phone calls because they find air travel to be blissful, a peaceful oasis they never complain about now.

Live and Let’s Fly reports that United has now taken the same position.

United wishes to make clear that it has no current plans to allow passenger voice calls using personal devices while airborne, even if future regulatory activity allows for inflight cellular communication…United believes that prohibiting passenger voice calls while airborne is the right thing to do for our employees and our customers…

That should be their right — and their decision. Not everything that annoys a majority of people (my free speech, for instance) ought to be illegal. Businesses ought to be permitted to set rules, and customers can choose which ones to patronize. Because freedom.

Copyright: creatista / 123RF Stock Photo

Airline employee unions inflight cell phone calls are unsafe because the cabin would be noisier and people wouldn’t hear safety announcements, but that’s absolutely ridiculous.

Cell phone calls are being made from planes every single day in Europe, the Mideast and Asia. US Consumers overwhelmingly say they don’t like the idea of cell phone use on planes. Most have never experienced it. In fact nothing bad happens because of it, relatively few people make calls because the service is expensive, and those that do tend to be discrete about it as the airlines as them to.

Anyone who is against it, predicting Really. Bad. Things. has the burden to explain why those bad things will happen on a US airliner when they don’t happen on airberlin, Qatar, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, SAS, and Emirates.

Amtrak allows cell phones in a confined space, too, and it’s not awful (though conversations around us can sometimes be amusing, and sometimes eye roll-inducing). They also have quiet cars where phones aren’t allowed. There’s only one Amtrak operating commercial train service, you have your choice of airlines and could fly United or Delta who say they’ll ban it if given the opportunity if this is something that matters to you.

Union Station, Washington DC

Planes had seatback phones for years. They weren’t often used because they were expensive, just like inflight cell phone calling is expensive.

The calls that would be made are the ones people find important enough to pay a premium for. A year and a half ago a woman might have been able to stop a suicide if she could have used her phone inflight. There are painful tragedies, and special moments repeating themselves across the country every day. How many business travelers would love to say good night to a young child they rarely see during the week? What would that extra connectedness to a parent mean to that child?

Not every call is important, but some are. If you value the connectivity, fly an airline that doesn’t ban it. If you value listening only to the noise of engines, crying babies, and passengers talking to each other (including drunk ones) then fly an airline that bans it.

This ought to be none of the government’s business.

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. United cannot even provide reliable internet service on board its’ long-haul flights, so I doubt they could even implement this properly.

    Agent today read out fare rules from a K-fare instead of a B-fare and guess what? SHARES was the problem!

  2. Ban the bastards. Surely our very loud good friends from America can go a few hours without contact ( although I know many who think they are so self-important they probably can’t ). As for the statement “Cell phone calls are being made from planes every single day in Europe, the Mideast and Asia.”. Simply not true. It’s not happening. I fly over 500,000-750,000 miles annually, around the world, across all Alliances and airlines and I am yet once to see inflight mobiles being used. On the ground before and after take-off, sure. But not in the air. Keep your “free-speech” on the ground and not in my ear on-board an aircraft. I am sure you can cope. Good onya Delta, United, stick to your guns and ban the bastards.

  3. Airplanes are public spaces operated by private companies. I agree the companies can make their own rules but I see no reason why cell phones should be banned.

  4. I don’t even get cell reception in flight. Typically above 2000 feet my phone can’t pick up a signal. I don’t really understand what the problem is.

  5. RJB: So I guess that means you would have no objection my music playing out loud from my iPad or my laptop when I am seated next to you while you are talking out loudly on your cell phone, being a public space and all. You know, free speech etc etc And FYI, aircraft are not public spaces. They are very, very private with rules and regulations.

  6. Dude, sometimes the libertarian thing makes you tie yourself in knots. The most entirely regulated business in existence (airlines) and you’re caviling at phones?

    Alternate universe Gary:

    “If you want an airline that adheres to FAA safety regulations, then buy a ticket on one! This ought to be none of the government’s business!”

  7. I would LOVE to be able to use my cell phone in air, as much of a pain as it can be, I would love to be able to leave it on and screen my calls so that if I’m flying a 4 hour+ flight I won’t miss customer calls. I’m self employed and it matters to not miss calls. I try to avoid flying when calls may come in but it can cost you revenue in my line of work if I miss calls and I’m fairly certain that I’m not alone in that. The ringing would be annoying but assuming that people were told to mute ringtones I don’t really see it being any worse than screaming brats (I’ll take an “obnoxious American” on the phone any day over an obnoxious screaming monster) or talking seatmates.

  8. Fear mongering much, Gary? Are clicks that hard to come by?

    You make it appear like the government does not allow United to ban inflight use of cellular phones even if / when the government allows it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  9. i don’t “get” this typo paragraph :

    “Anyone who is against it, predicting Really. Bad. Things. has the burden to explain why those bad things will happen on a US airliner when they don’t happen on airberlin, Qatar, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, SAS, and Emirates.”

  10. How are inflight calls expensive in the age of onboard wifi? Facetime, Skype, etc, etc are all calls – even worse, as many people will hold the gadget at arms’ length and shout at the screen.

  11. @JC the government doesn’t let United make the choice, in this case the choice to ban rather than allow, they are taking the choice away from airlines which is precisely what I’m criticizing.

  12. While I don’t think the government should be banning cell phones i do not feel like being woken up bu someone’s cellphone conversation. The chances of it bein soo critical that they cant wait until they are on the ground seem quite slim.

  13. Life and business existed for decades before cell phones and cell phone usage on planes. Life and business will continue to exist without having to allow a plane full of self-important idiots screaming into their phones.

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