Dem pushes for ban on in-flight phone calls

Dem pushes for ban on in-flight phone calls
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A Democratic lawmaker is calling on the new head of the Transportation Department to ban all types of phone calls on flights.

In a letter to Secretary Elaine Chao, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) “respectfully” urged the agency to go one step further in a pending airline proposal and issue a final rule that would also prohibit in-flight voice calls.

DeFazio argues that phone calls on planes can create security vulnerabilities, pose safety risks and create a miserable travel experience for passengers.

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“The cabin of an airplane in flight has been a refuge from the noisy world below,” said DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “No one wants to be stuck for hours next to a passenger on a cell phone who is arguing with a spouse, haranguing a business colleague, or arranging a sensitive medical appointment.”

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a proposal in December under the Obama administration that would require airlines and ticket agents to notify customers on whether their air carrier allows passengers to make in-flight voice calls using mobile wireless devices.  

The DOT said at the time that it’s unfair to expose passengers to voice calls during flights without giving them proper notice, calling the practice “deceptive.”

The agency also sought public feedback on whether disclosure is sufficient or whether it should ban voice calls on flights altogether. Monday is the last day to submit comments to the DOT about whether the agency should go further in its rulemaking.

DeFazio pointed out that 96 percent of the more than 1,700 respondents have so far expressed support for a ban on voice calls.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission prohibits using mobile devices on certain radio frequencies onboard commercial flights, which includes voice calls. But the rules don’t apply to Wi-Fi and other ways that passengers can make phone calls thanks to new technology.

The DOT issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue in 2014, but the issue has been somewhat divisive. Some people opposed in-flight phone calls because they say they’re disturbing, while others argued that the decision should ultimately be up to airlines.

“Market forces alone will not keep planeloads of passengers from making voice calls in flight,” DeFazio said.