Voice Calls on Planes? Transportation Department Is Considering It

The U.S. Department of Transportation, responding to the rise of Wi-Fi calling as a way to get around phone-call bans on planes, has proposed a path toward allowing in-flight calls---with a few conditions. Despite support from an airline trade group, the proposal faces some stiff headwinds from opponents.

Flights—along with the passengers you’re sitting near—can be pretty annoying, which is why so many travelers and airlines have objected to proposals to allow phone calls on planes.

But the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is forging ahead. According to the Wall Street Journal, last week the agency suggested that it would allow such service on two conditions: that airlines have the final say on whether to permit calls on their planes, and that passengers be told in advance whether the service is available on their flight.

The strategy, suggested Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, would help protect consumers from in-air distractions. “The Department of Transportation is proposing to protect airline passengers from being unwillingly exposed to voice calls within the confines of an airplane,” Foxx said in the proposal, according to USA Today.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) bars cellular-based calls but not those made over Wi-Fi. This proposed rule would cover both uses.

Foxx’s statement apparently didn’t reassure opponents of in-flight calling. The Association of Flight Attendants, for example, called the proposal “reckless” and a security threat.

“The American public does not want voice communication in flight,” Sara Nelson, the union’s president, told USA Today. “Anything short of banning voice calls is reckless. It threatens aviation security and increases the likelihood of conflict in the skies. It threatens safety for crews and passengers.”

They’re not alone. The Global Business Travel Association is also opposed to the idea, as are consumer groups such as Consumers Union and Travelers United. And when the issue last came up in 2014, the FCC and DOT received more than 1,000 comments on the matter.

Airlines for America, which represents many of the country’s largest airlines, welcomed the proposal. “We believe airlines should be able to determine which services can be safely offered in flight and make those decisions based on what is in the best interests of their passengers and crew members,” a spokeswoman told the Journal.

Formal comments on the proposed rules may be made at Regulations.Gov.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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