The Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection voted to recommend that airlines be permitted to choose whether or not cell phones are allowed onboard their planes.
Two years ago the FCC announced that it was considering lifting the ban on inflight cell phone use. The Department of Transportation responded by saying that if the FCC acted to allow cell phones, they’d regulate against it (under a seriously dubious reading of their statuatory authority to ensure “safe and adequate” and protect consumers from “unfair and deceptive practices” by airlines).
But now the DOT’s own advisory committee says that airlines ought to be able to make their own rules.
Does this mean you’re going to have to listen to your bloviating seatmate talking about the big deal they’re trying to close? or talking to their paramour?
And are fights going to break out on all your flights?
Both DOT and FCC have received comment on the issue, almost all against, and this isn’t on the verge of happening. It’s just one small step that could ultimately be viewed as having started momentum if inflight cell phone use comes to pass.
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, or at least I see as much potential upside as downside when looking at how this issue is handled throughout the rest of the world.
Five Things to Consider Before Letting Your Head Explode Over the Possibility of Inflight Cell Phone Use:
- Cell phone use is allowed throughout much of the world, uptake is limited, and calls are short. Fights do not 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.
- 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 not when it’s cheap. It’s unclear that it would actually be cheap…
- Planes aren’t peaceful spaces to begin with. Engines make noise. Babies cry. 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. Even when I’m wearing noise cancelling headphones. Cell phone calls aren’t worse than that, and I’d often prefer my seatmate talk into their phone than talk to me.
- Calls can be important. Just a few months ago this woman might have been able to stop a suicide. 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. To the extent this isn’t free you’d likely see the relative proportion shift towards important calls that are deemed worth the money. And the important calls have to count for something.
Many airlines wouldn’t allow calls. Delta is on record saying they won’t permit inflight cell phone use even if legal. So one more non-frequent flyer program reason that many may want to fly Delta.
There are plenty of things that we may not like but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable to others. And it doesn’t mean they should be illegal. Because, freedom.