More outcry over proposed US ban on in-flight cell phone use

An issue that is near and dear to my heart – in-flight mobile cell phone usage – is back in the fray now that major trade groups have joined the growing chorus of objections to a House FAA reauthorization bill amendment that would formally ban wireless devices for voice communications when an aircraft is airborne in the USA.


The CTIA, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Satellite Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, and TechAmerica have all asked that a proper study be performed before a permanent federal ban is implemented. Their request mirrors that which was recently made by two major consumer groups.

So why perform a study? Because the gravity of a federal ban is so significant. It would, without a doubt, stop this type of technological advancement in the USA while the rest of the world adopts in-flight mobile connectivity en masse. For those who have not been following this issue, let me be clear – the bill would ban passengers from making voice calls on wireless devices (just passengers, mind you, not crew or federal marshals). That includes mobile phones but also VoIP. It does not ban telephony over wired devices.  

The Inflight Passenger Communications Coalition (IPCC) was formed by a group of industry stakeholders with the goal of stopping a federal ban from being passed (current FCC and FAA bans already exist, but these are not locked into the harder-to-open vault of federal law).

The legislation, proposed by the very misguided Representative Peter DeFazio, originally came in standalone form as the “Hang-Up Act”. It has since been incorporated into FAA reauthorization legislation.

This is significant. The FAA needs to be funded. In less than five months, lawmakers will vote on this legislation or vote to pass another extension to fund the agency.

“If the world was perfect,” says IPCC spokesman Carl Biersack, the coalition would like to see a study mandated in lieu of the ban before the legislation “reaches the House floor”.

As these things go, the Senate is drafting its own FAA reauthorization legislation. Carl says he does not know if the same type of amendment will be tacked on to the Senate’s version of the bill, but notes that some senators have looked at the proposed ban with a sense of scepticism.

“We do have some champions both in the House and Senate. They have communicated to us that they are. They have not played a public role as yet,” says Carl.

I’m not surprised that lawmakers are staying quiet on this issue. When DeFazio introduced the Hang-Up Act, he said the public “doesn’t want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already over-packed airplane”. There was just one problem – DeFazio never formally queried the public.

“Stakeholders, detractors, everyone hasn’t had input. The [legislation] has been done without the benefit of a review. That is why we feel our position as a study is very valid. We are not advocating a result. We are not advocating that applications be applied tomorrow on commercial flights in the USA,” says an IPCC spokesman.

The IPCC may not be advocating it, but you can be sure that is the ultimate goal. And what would be so wrong with that? Countries all over this fair globe now permit the in-flight usage of mobile cell phones and there have been no social problems. None!

Where is the outcry in Asia, Europe and the Middle East? Where is the gnashing of fists and the grinding of teeth? Where is the air rage? It isn’t there. It’s a farce. Just like this legislation. 

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6 Responses to More outcry over proposed US ban on in-flight cell phone use

  1. Dave May 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    I wonder how many people in Congress are really behind this garbage? Is DeFazio acting alone and just tacking his little project on as a rider on a bill or is there a whole caucus of these morons. Sometimes I wonder if Congress might run better if all the representatives were replaced with Chimpanzees… it’s not without precedent, the Roman Emperor Caligula tried to appoint his horse to the Senate- some though he was insane, but perhaps he just realized the horse could do a better job.

  2. Mary Kirby May 13, 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    Amazingly, he was joined by a number of other high-profile reps, including Costello and Duncan.

    Here is my original piece…

  3. Ludwig von Hapsburg XII "Stinky" May 14, 2009 at 11:38 am #


    Excellent insights, my friend. However, your naivety is adorable. Everyone who wasn’t nursed at the teet of the Kool-Aid man knows that Congress acts like a self-greasing axle.

    Unfortunately, the only thing working against Chimps is that for some reason they are marginalized by the fact they throw their own poo at one another. Personally, I am humbled by their honesty and candor, and who in Congress isn’t deserving to to have poo thrown upon them? They do it to each other every day.

    I still enjoy reading about how the Congressional Supper Club had to be sourced to a private restaurant management firm. They can’t even run their own canteen!


  4. Don May 15, 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    The only one complaining about NOT having cell phones on airplanes are the companies with the technology to do it! Can you imagine sitting next to Mary for hours on end with her self-important rambling?! No thanks.

  5. Mary Kirby May 15, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Rambling, be it self-important or otherwise, costs plenty of money at 30,000ft. I’m all for the technology, but you wouldn’t see me chatting for more than a few minutes – maybe to tell my ex-husband that I’m running late to pick up my daughter, or to book a connecting flight while airborne (if, for example, my flight had been delayed). I do not think people should talk endlessly. The fact is that this technology is quickly growing throughout the world and the USA is behind. Why? Because we’re afraid that Americans are too rude to handle it. Have some confidence in us, man. We’re not that bad! We can act responsibly. Airlines, for example, could give people an hour to make calls and then shut down the system, but allow us to still text. Now I’m off to have a glass of self-important boxed wine. Only the very best for this RWG :)

  6. Mark May 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Mary, thanks for advising Don that the cost for the “hours on end rambling” will drive this market. The airlines used to have phones in the seat backs, and I doubt Don ever had that “hours on end rambling” experience. Seat back phones died, because the costs to the consumer were too high….and that has not changed just because the consumer could use their own mobile device.
    I have meet many that do not want mobile phones on aircraft, but none of them have been aware of the cost. I doubt DeFazio or Oberstar are either. Besides that, before the Flight Attendants wrote this bill for DeFazio to introduce, he had complained to the FCC why he couldn’t use his own cell phone on an aircraft.
    My message to Congress is simple: Legislate banning mobile devices for safety reasons (like from drivers of vehicles) where there is plenty of data, and not for social reasons where there is no data.
    Bottom line, US airlines will just bring “wired” phones back to the seatback, instead of using wireless picocells on the aircraft, and Don will still have that fear of flying with “Mary”.