The Department of Transportation’s General Counsel says they plan to introduce formal rules by the end of the year which would ban inflight cell phone calls. (HT: Alan H.)
This is precipitated by the FCC’s merely talking about the prospect of lifting its rules since it no longer believes there is any technical justification for them. And that the idea of inflight calls are highly unpopular.
Is Inflight Cell Phone Use Even Bad?
Lots of consumers think that it would be really annoying if their seat opponent got on their phone. I don’t like talking on the phone when I’m on the ground, so inflight cell phone use doesn’t excite me either. But I also don’t see the harm.
But passengers elsewhere in the world use phones on planes and terrible things don’t happen In fact, few passengers actually make calls and those that do keep them short. Fights don’t break out.
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.
And planes had seatback phones for years. They weren’t often used because they were expensive. So presumably the fear in letting passengers use their cell phones is that it was ok when it wasn’t practical to use, but now that it’s cheap it’s bad.
Moreover, planes aren’t quiet now. Engines make noise. Babies cry. And passengers talk to each other now. I can’t tell you how many times folks have told me their life story… sometimes after they’ve thrown back one too many. Cell phone calls aren’t worse than that, and I’d often prefer my seatmate talk into their phone than talk to me.
Could it Even Be GOOD?
Calls might even be important, or meaningful.
Why shouldn’t the deep connection to a child, tucking them in at night for a traveler on the road a lot who doesn’t see their kid as often as they’d want weigh against the hypothetical annoyance of other passengers?
Or we could actually accomplish things. Greater productivity during dead time is one of the few pieces of ‘low hanging fruit’ left to goose the economy.
Should the Government Actually Ban Calls?
This isn’t a safety issue, it’s all about pandering to the unpopularity of something that we haven’t even experienced yet. Even if you don’t personally want people using phones, does that mean the government should ban their use?
Airlines don’t think the Department of Transportation has the legal authority for the ban. Here’s how the DOT sees it:
The Transportation Department has said it would pursue any ban of in-flight calls on consumer-protection grounds, under sections of transportation law that give it the authority to ensure airlines provide “safe and adequate” service and to protect fliers from “unfair and deceptive practices” by airlines. The department successfully used these laws to make a rule that fines airlines for keeping fliers on an airplane parked on a tarmac for several hours.
If we accept a reading of safety that includes whether people can use phones, then that fairly well eliminates any constraints on DOT authority. Not only is there no documented safety risk, inflight cell phone use happens every day around the world without incident, and the cabin crew retains the ability to turn off and on the systems which would permit inflight use of cell phones.
Instead of banning cell phone use on the tenuous justification of safety (DOT has no authority under the rubric “because people don’t like it”), shouldn’t they instead be investigating what the safest way to allow this is?
Let the Airlines Compete for Our Buisness
For those who think airline consolidation has been bad for consumers, that there isn’t really competition anymore, shouldn’t airlines be allowed to compete for our business?
Delta announced more than six months ago that if inflight cell phone use became legal, that they wouldn’t allow it. If enough consumers hate cell phones, there would be a meaningful shift over to Delta.
Why not let consumers choose what’s important to them, without forbidding other passengers from seeking out what they value most?