A recent Harris Poll asked Americans to identify their biggest pet peeves when traveling by air. The top responses? Passengers who abuse the overhead bin space and those who recline their seats. Now just imagine if passengers were allowed to talk on their phones throughout a flight, free to chat about business and their personal affairs just inches away from their neighbors. I think we’d have a new top pet peeve.
Unfortunately, this scenario could become a reality if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) goes through with its plan to lift a decades-old ban to allow passengers to use their phones while in-flight. Permitting in-flight cell phone use would not only create an additional nuisance for passengers seeking peace and quiet, but would also pose serious safety and security concerns.
Instead of dedicating their attention to the required tasks that keep passengers safe and the cabin environment calm, flight attendants would be forced to police phone calls and settle disputes when passengers become irritated by each other’s conversations. And with a cabin full of talking and texting passengers, the noise levels throughout the cabin are sure to rise, making it difficult for flight attendants and pilots to relay important safety announcements to distracted passengers.
Even more, the installation of broadband and normalization of passenger use of cell phones to place calls and send messages could be exploited by terrorists to undermine aviation security. Any potential risk that could jeopardize the security of our aviation system must be thoroughly assessed by the appropriate agencies. We raised these points and others in regulatory comments filed with the FCC and the Department of Transportation.
And just in case it’s been lost on federal regulators, the traveling public is far from clamoring for lifting the ban. In fact, polls suggest that the majority of fliers oppose the use of cell phones in-flight. Even Congress has come together to oppose the proposed change. Chairman Shuster’s bill to prohibit cell phone use was passed unanimously by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate to likewise ban passengers from talking on their phones.
So, if in-flight cell phone use is unpopular with the public, would undermine the safety and comfort of passengers, impose undue burdens on flight crewmembers, and potentially jeopardize aviation security, why is it even being considering? The answer is that it shouldn’t and we will be sounding the alarm bell until this bad idea is shelved.