The Bad Idea That Won’t Go Away: In-Flight Cell Phone Calls

Allowing airline passengers to make in-flight cell phone calls – as two government agencies are considering – would cause an unnecessary safety and security risk to both passengers and flight crews, writes IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger in a letter to members of Congress.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has offered a proposal to allow the use of wireless communications devices on commercial flights. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking public input into whether allowing in-flight voice calls would be disruptive.

“Passengers in voice calls will be distracted from listening to the very important safety briefings by flight crews,” writes Buffenbarger. “In addition, these vocal conversations could easily lead to confrontations among passengers who do not wish to hear other passengers’ phone calls.”

In the last month, three U.S. flights have been grounded due to passenger disputes on planes. Those incidents occurred over passengers fighting over the ability to recline their seats, but it’s not hard to imagine similar arguments arising over cell phone use.

People perceive cell phone conversations as being more annoying and distracting than two-sided ones, according to a recent study. Could you imagine sitting next to this guy (video) on your next flight?

“Cabin crew members already have enough problems with ‘air rage’ on the plane and having people talk loudly on the phone would only contribute to this increased anger,” wrote Buffenbarger.

The IAM’s letter encourages members of Congress to sign on to a letter to the heads of the FCC, DOT and the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to urge them to maintain the long-standing ban on cell phone calls while a commercial plane is in the air. Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and David McKinley (R-WV) are leading the effort to keep the ban and for the agencies to work collaboratively to address safety concerns posed by allowing in-flight cell phone calls.