FCC mulls lifting ban on cell phone calls during flights

Disgruntled passengers file petition opposing move with the White House

Following quickly (in bureaucratic terms) on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) decision to lift most of its restrictions on the use of mobile devices on airplanes, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put the issue of ending the ban on cell phone use on planes in its December meeting agenda.

The FCC says it will consider a proposal "to revise outdated rules and provide airlines with the ability to permit passengers to use mobile wireless services via onboard airborne access systems."

According to a report by The Washington Post, the proposal would allow passengers to make calls and use their cellular data plans once a plane reaches 10,000 feet, but restrictions would remain for takeoffs and landings.

Earlier this month, the FAA decided to allow airline passengers to use their personal electronic devices through the flight, lifting restrictions that prohibited their use during takeoff and landing. The FAA decision was based on a recommendation by a panel of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants and the mobile tech industry.

The FAA left it up to the airlines to certify that their aircraft could operate safely with electronic devices turned on throughout the flight. Southwest recently announced that it would allow passengers to use their electronic devices to access Wi-Fi from gate to gate, the first U.S. airline to do so.

One big gap in mobile device freedom in the skies was the FCC's restrictions on making cell phone calls during the flight. That could change as the FCC considers revising those rules at its December meeting, scheduled to be held Dec.12.

Not everyone is thrilled at the prospects of cell phone calls during flights. A disgruntled passenger filed a petition with the White House opposing the FCC's proposal.

"During flights, passengers are forced into a restricted space, often for long periods of time. Forcing them to listen to the inane, loud, private, personal conversations of a stranger is perhaps the worst idea the FCC has come up with to date. This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud," the petition reads.

As of Nov. 22, the petition has 176 signatories, well short of the 99,284 needed by Dec. 21 in order for the White House to pay attention to it.

For more:
- see the FCC's announcement
- read The Washington Post article

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