Airborne Airtime: FCC to Reconsider Ban on Cellphones in Airplanes

by on December 9, 2004

Will airline passengers soon be able to use their cellphones while in flight? Perhaps. The FCC announced today that at its meeting next week it would consider changing its rules to “facilitate” cellphone use in aircraft. This is welcome news. The phone ban was imposed in the early 1990s due to concerns that the then-new wireless technology would interfere with vital onboard safety equipment. However, in the years since, researchers have been able to come up with little or no evidence of a problem. Rather than protect safety, some say, the prohibition has merely served to protect firms that offer seatback phones.

Of course, not everyone will be looking forward to freer phone use in flight. Who, after all, will want to share an aisle with Chatty Charlie during their next 12-hour flight to Tokyo? Still, there’s a big difference between allowing cell phone use and requiring it. If telephones look to be enough of an annoyance to enough passengers, smart airline managers will move quickly to restrict them. One can even imagine “quiet” areas in the cabin, much as Amtrak now offers “quiet” cars. No government rules are required to solve this problem.

Still, its hard to imagine air travel without the familar warning when its time to put away “all cellular telephones and other electronic equipment.” Scientifically justified or not, it has become a ritual of air travel for many, somewhat comforting in its predictabilty. But traditionalists need not worry. If they want ritual, they can always watch the cabin crew demonstrate how to use a seat belt, as required by the FAA’s rules.

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