TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online.
Sunday, Apr 23, 2017

Spare us, please, from cellphone calls on airplanes

Both the government and the airline industry appear reluctant to allow in-flight cellphone calls now that the Federal Communications Commission has found the technology poses no risk to aircraft safety.

Public input will be gathered before the FCC decides whether to lift the ban. In a separate action, the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to consider new rules that would keep the ban in place.

We certainly hope the process results in a ban on cell conversations during flights.

Being subjected to one side of someone else’s conversation while in a store checkout line or walking along a sidewalk is a temporary annoyance that can be mitigated by moving far enough away. There would be only two choices in an aircraft cabin: suffer through the rude behavior or confront the offender. That could very well lead to a dispute on just about every flight. It would require attendants to intervene when they have more important matters to tend to.

Cell calls on airplanes have been banned since 1991 over concerns they interfere with cellular networks on the ground. But technological advances have eliminated those concerns, prompting the FCC to reconsider the ban.

The FCC is not endorsing cell usage, but felt compelled to act because its reasons for the ban are no longer valid.

That leaves it up to the Department of Transportation, which regulates aviation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the DOT could consider a ban under a law that require airlines to provide “safe and adequate” service.

DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said his office has already heard from the airlines, travelers and flight attendants, all troubled by a potential lifting of the ban.

“I am concerned about this possibility as well,” Foxx said, who added his department must decide whether allowing the calls is “fair to consumers.”

Trust us, it’s not. Even if the government were to allow the calls, the airline industry appears unlikely to embrace the change. A recent Associated Press poll shows nearly half of Americans are against the calls, while 30 percent are neutral and 19 percent support them.

Several major airlines have already said they would not allow cell calls, but a few others said they would study any new rules before deciding. One said it might consider setting aside a section of the plane for calls.

There are few enjoyable experiences associated with flying anymore. The need to arrive so early at the airport, the tedious security checks and those infuriating fees all make for a stressful journey. The chance for some solitude during the flight, along with a complementary soft drink and miniscule package of peanuts, are about the only bright spots.

Allowing cell phone conversations would be a monumental mistake.